Nao - Saturn (Album Review)

Wednesday, 31 October 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

Having featured on breakout projects by the likes of Stormzy and Disclosure, London-based songwriter Nao isn't short of rep in high places. But whereas British R&B contemporaries like Charlie XCX, Aluna Francis and Jorja Smith have used their respective talents to transition into hitmakers, Nao seemed to become more entrenched in her intimate, avant-soul niche on her debut LP 'For All We Know'.

Belting out syrupy lyrics over bassy electronic production might no longer seem groundbreaking in 2018, but it's the tone that Nao adopts to set her apart. She uses her dramatic vocal abilities to paint impactful narratives of love and loss, seizing the listener's attention with prose-like expression. Many of Nao's peers attempt to invoke emotion with throwaway hooks; she does so with her inflection.

She kicks into this gear straight off the bat on follow-up 'Saturn'. The album's title is named after a Saturn return, a significant astrological event that supposedly marks reaching full adulthood. That in mind, she spends much of the record wrestling with this transformation to a degree of heart-rending sincerity.

She's more shameless in her confessional style, reaching for the stars on the gorgeous Another Lifetime and explicitly laying out the conflict that emerges from breaking up a relationship on good terms (“How I wish perfect was enough for my own heart”). The overarching theme of personal growth – and reflecting on that growth – is mirrored by her ambitious and panoramic production choices.

If You Ever, for example, juxtaposes mellow organ, subtle strings and tribal percussion with passionate vocal harmonies. The title track is similarly lush but for different reasons, as Nao delivers a gospel-style hook with the help of guest Kwabs. The unorthodox chord progressions and use of live instrumentation give it a power it simply wouldn't carry on an electropop template.

The album, produced by Nao with the help of cross-genre specialists Stint and Grades, among others, doesn't entirely avoid the pitfalls of its predecessor, plodding on in terms of pace for much of the runtime. However, it's also a shorter and better structured record with fewer tracks. Her most impactful ruminations over heartbreak are placed intelligently throughout: Orbit, a poignant guitar ballad, is the epicentre, When Saturn Returns serves as a neat interlude, and closing track A Life Like This concludes on a hopeful note (“When the design is done, I'll adjust to you”).

It'd be a mistake to suggest Nao lacks pop appeal – the tracks Gabriel, and Drive and Disconnect both have earworm choruses that would sound right at home on the radio – but influences from both the East London club scene and her own vocal jazz background bleed into everything she does.

As a well known and respected figure in her home city, Nao could quite easily ride her own wave and modify her musical vision for the sake of chart success. Instead, 'Saturn' is an album that sees her trim down the flab and go with her instincts – it's extremely impressive as a result.

Nao Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows

Wed March 20 2019 - MANCHESTER Albert Hall
Thu March 21 2019 - LEEDS Leeds Beckett Students Union
Fri March 22 2019 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
Sun March 24 2019 - DUBLIN Vicar Street
Tue March 26 2019 - BRISTOL O2 Academy Bristol
Thu March 28 2019 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Sat January 12 2019 - VANCOUVER British Columbia - Vogue Theatre Vancouver (Canada)
Sun January 13 2019 - SEATTLE Washington - Showbox (USA)
Mon January 14 2019 - PORTLAND Oregon - Wonder Ballroom (USA)
Wed January 16 2019 - SAN FRANCISCO California - Warfield (USA)
Fri January 18 2019 - LOS ANGELES California - Novo (USA)
Sat January 19 2019 - SAN DIEGO California - Observatory North Park (USA)
Sun January 20 2019 - SANTA ANA California - Observatory Santa Ana (USA)
Tue January 22 2019 - SALT LAKE CITY Utah - Metro Music Hall (USA)
Wed January 23 2019 - ENGLEWOOD Colorado - Gothic Theatre (USA)
Fri January 25 2019 - MINNEAPOLIS Minnesota - Fine Line Music Cafe (USA)
Sat January 26 2019 - CHICAGO Illinois - Concord Music Hall (USA)
Sun January 27 2019 - DETROIT Michigan - Majestic Theatre Detroit (USA)
Tue January 29 2019 - TORONTO Ontario - Danforth Music Hall Theatre (Canada)
Wed January 30 2019 - MONTREAL Quebec - Corona Theatre (Canada)
Fri February 01 2019 - BOSTON Massachusetts - Royale Boston (USA)
Sat February 02 2019 - NEW YORK New York - Terminal 5 (USA)
Mon February 04 2019 - PHILADELPHIA Pennsylvania - Union Transfer (USA)
Tue February 05 2019 - SILVER SPRING Maryland - Fillmore Silver Spring presented by Cricket Wireless (USA)
Thu February 07 2019 - ATLANTA Georgia - Masquerade (USA)
Thu March 07 2019 - AMSTERDAM Paradiso (Netherlands)
Fri March 08 2019 - PARIS Gaite Lyrique (France)
Sat March 09 2019 - BRUSSELS Ancienne Belgique (Belgium)
Mon March 11 2019 - COLOGNE LUXOR (Germany)
Wed March 13 2019 - COPENHAGEN Vega (Denmark)
Thu March 14 2019 - HAMBURG Mojo (Germany)
Fri March 15 2019 - BERLIN Kesselhaus (Germany)

Click here to compare & buy Nao Tickets at Stereoboard.com.





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