Saturn – Nao (2018)

“Saturn” is the 2nd studio album from UK Singer/Songwriter Nao.

Nao first came to my attention in 2015 when she appeared on the track “Super Ego” with Disclosure in what was one of the best tracks off their sophomore set “Caracal”.

An artist like Nao will always find mainstream success difficult as in the UK we just do not embrace black R&B female singers in the way they should be. Despite R&B females from America still having massive success and airplay in the UK we seem to overlook our own and have been doing so since the likes of Beverly Knight, Hinda Hicks and Terri Walker.

But what all these singers bring to the table is something different and Nao fits this mould perfectly because I would not consider her a conventional female vocalist in the sense that her voice is quite high pitch but not without its own range.

What I love about this album is just how tailored it is to her vocal. Nao was recently on the track “Boogie All Night” on the latest album from Chic and whilst I liked the song, I never felt that her vocal was quite the right fit.

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The opening track on “Saturn” is “Another Lifetime” which is a gorgeous track about longing for a relationship which for whatever reason has not worked out. The hope that it will rekindle in another lifetime is similar in its theme to Erykah Badu’s “Next Lifetime” from her album “Baduism”.

In the early stages of the track it is unclear who is to blame for the breakup but later on she says that in another life she swears she will not run from this person which leads me to think it was Nao who found it was all too difficult to continue with.

“Make It Out Alive” is my favourite song off the album. It has lush production and is a powerful slow jam full of emotion and frustration. Like most of the songs on the album it is about love and a breakdown in a relationship. Nao conveys this sad anger on this track and a feeling of desperation when trying to look forward.

She is joined by vocalist SiR as the song becomes a duet which helps balance the frustration emanating from the way Nao is putting things forward. It’s just a lovely track which asks questions but is unable to give answers.

“If You Ever” sees song writing producing extraordinaire Mura Masa on production credits. This was the first song I had heard before this album was released and whilst I was excited for the collaboration, I never was able to get to excited about the whole track as I don’t really think it goes anywhere and feels long and stagnant.

After the interlude “When Saturn Returns” we move straight into the title track “Saturn”. This song has Nao joined by Kwabs (who was also on the last Disclosure album). His deep voice alongside Nao’s higher register sounds simply delicious. The light and dark of both these vocal performances over quite a classic sounding slow jam is a real winner.

Perhaps the only issue is just how similar it sounds to “Best Part” by Daniel Caeser who appears on the credits for this song playing the guitar.

“Gabriel” is a break from the slow jam beginning to the album with a more mid tempo funky production stirring over this one. This is an infectious funky little jam which sounds really good loud.

Some top-notch production is evident on this one with the bassline and synthesizers sounding rich and all encompassing.

“Orbit” is where Nao is at her best. When she simply sings a ballad that has a rising chorus that allows her to show off some more of her unique vocal range without stretching it unnecessarily it really works.

But sadly on the second verse they decide to filter her voice with an robotic effect that baffles me as it doesn’t really have any positive purpose. It’s a shame because otherwise this is a really good track which is just let down by over production on the second verse.

“Love Supreme” is a fun more pop orientated number which lyrically is a bit redundant and a little sickly sweet at times but it a funky little number which is difficult not to bop your head to. It’s certainly a shift in mood as we move from the more serious darker themes of love and loss to a more positive outlook on the future.

“Curiosity” is the deep sounding FKA Twigs like track which exudes a real sexy side with lyrics such as ‘Feel My Waterfall’ as Nao lays on the sultriness in an abundance. This is a superb track.

The 10th track “Drive and Disconnect” sounds similar to “If You Ever” in it’s afrobeat styling which lifts the track and gives it an energy that sometimes is lacking in some of the other tracks. It’s not as potent and memorable as some of the other songs off “Saturn” with a very simple chorus and skeletal verses but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.

“Don’t Change” has a bit of a mundane first minute until another big ballad style chorus lifts the track out of the mire but overall this is one of the weaker songs on the album because the themes and sound of it have been done elsewhere on the album and done better.

“Yellow Of The Sun” is the penultimate track. This sounds modern and super funky and seems to take it’s inspiration through the name checked ‘Thelma & Louise’ movie. I think this is more of a look metaphorically at driving off into the sunset and not actually the literal ending of that movie where the characters portrayed by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis actually drive off the cliff into the canyon but perhaps Nao is being literal in this sense which would make this funky piece of brilliance a very dark song indeed.

The final track is “A Life Like This”.

Nao sounds beautiful on this song. Her voice may not be for everyone, but I think that is down to a music snobbery that female singers (especially black female singers) are required to sing in the same way lending only to a Gospel sound than a more delicate beauty that Nao possesses within her.

This is quintessential listening for anyone wishing to get into Nao because it is her voice and connection to her personal lyrics that make her a giant within the R&B field.

 

 

“Saturn” is an excellent R&B album with some nice production at times and a display of a vocalist who deserves more praise for her vocal ability than she receives.

This album is personal yet easy to connect with and enjoy. The conveying of emotions and understanding the things that she has been through in her relationship is put across perfectly and I think this is a real gem of a project.

 

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