The mini-album, Don’t Explain, is available at:
8th April 2016
R&B; Alternative/Pop; Soul
Stockholm, Sweden; Los Angeles, U.S.A.
It’s Just a Fever (Intro.)- 9.6
In Your River- 9.8
Charleville 9200 (feat. James Fauntleroy) – 9.6
Don’t Explain– 9.7
Under the Influence– 9.8
Under the Influence pt. II- 9.6
It’s All On Me (Outro.)- 9.6
In Your River; Don’t Explain; Under the Influence; Chaos
Under the Influence
THERE are few musicians out there as majestic and loved as…
Snoh Aalegra. Her new mini-album, Don’t Explain, is a matter of hours old: the social media devoted are cooing and vacillating over the newly-bred babe. Its stunning atmosphere and memorable songs- I shall touch on them below- have resonated and caused an immediate reaction. I may not be the first to review this new work- someone will sneak in before me- but I hope to be among them. Before I concentrate on the songs, it is worth talking about our heroine and her work. On paper- and in photographs- Aalegra is one of the mist jaw-dropping artists you could imagine. With model-good looks; she is one of the most extraordinarily beautiful women you will see- and not just in music. It is not meant as a dismissive point: a beautiful woman who captivates with beauty but struggles with the songs. If anything, the music surpasses the supernatural beauty of a musician who has a lot of support. As I type, her Twitter feed is going nuts. Throughout today- and the next few days- there will be the same comments published: those paying tribute to a remarkable mini-album that is causing shivers, shake and explosion. Born in Stockholm- another city that produces all manners of world-class musicians- it is not surprising to find another Swedish treasure before me. From the classic/bygone music of Abba and The Cardigans: Sweden has spawned some of the most varied and exceptional artists from all time. Masters of the effectively simple and catchy Pop sound: just think of The Cardigan’s sophomore album, Life. A banquet of delicious moments and stick-in-the-head-for-years choruses: it was one of the finest albums of the ‘90s, regardless of genre. In the current climate, we have Tove Lo, Robyn and Lykee Li; Anna von Hausswolff and First Aid Kit- legends like Roxette. You may scoff yet the latter name has been in my brain for weeks now. I keep replaying their tracks Joyride and The Look: two wonderful- if the same-sounding- hook-laden songs that burrow in the brain and compel you to sing along without constraint. Whilst Sweden (as a nation) has a proud and noble legacy: Stockholm is their musical capital that keeps providing musical wonder. It is no shock Snoh Aalegra is another name you can add to the list. With her half-Nordic, half-Persian background: you get an understanding which nations and ingredients go into that extraordinary D.N.A. The 28-year-old is based in L.A., which seems like a natural move. I am not sure how much opportunity the likes of Sweden offers its naturals: whether there is the same reputation and exposure as L.A. It seems like the relocation to California has done (our heroine) the world of good. Cast aside her beguiling beauty- can’t be accused of being one-minded- everything about Snoh Aalegra captivates the senses.
Her colourful album artwork has a mix of comic book adventure and ‘70s chic. If anything, the young musician is more a product of the 1970s than today. The lush strings and evocative songs (throughout Don’t Explain) remind you of Soul/Pop legends Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder; Prince and their contemporaries. Fed in a little ‘80s overspills and of-the-moment production grit: you have a performer that is one of the most unique and spectacular around music. Given the proliferation of purely Pop artists- that are bereft of energy and are dolorous to the ear- it is always wonderful hearing something new. Don’t Explain drips with cinematic strings and jam-packed compositions; a staggeringly pure voice and stand-in-the-mind lyrics. There is candour and expletives; honesty and raw emotions- wit and humour to be discovered too. It is no shock Don’t Explain is enrapturing fans and being talked-about in fevered tones. There are so few artists that do what Snoh Aalegra is doing. You have Lana Del Rey I guess, but there are difference. Del Rey’s albums look at bad boys and The American Dream: ironic images of apple pie-eating, Cadillac-driving heroines decked in Levi produce: cruising sunset strips with tattooed brooders and blowing smoke rings through scarlet-lipped pout.
Whilst Del Rey is evolving into a staggering musician- her latest album, Honeymoon– is took the 30-year-old time to cement that quality. Our heroine is younger and a different proposition. Songs do not obsess over a certain type: the rough-around-the-edge boys and dream-like visions. Snoh deals with loss and finding her place; trying to discover where home is- personal actualisation and maturing. There is fiction among her works but you get an honest and raw woman emerge. The deliver has grit and drama; a swagger inside the immense beauty- the compositions have so many dimensions and revelations. I find Snoh Aalegra a superior artist (to Del Rey): how long before she is getting international acclaim and attention? I hope the L.A.-based songwriter will be visiting London. I say it a lot- and said it in a previous review this morning- but there are a wealth of chances for her, here. Venues, pubs and bars will be lining up; radio stations will be eager to play her- Britain is very much her oyster! Too many (mainly men) will be seduced by Snoh’s staggering beauty and intoxicating personality- the girl has a way with words; someone you could fall for in a heartbeat- but that would belie an extraordinary talent. I find too many singers are committee-written and a product of marketing men. With every album you have a cavalcade of writers’ credits and notes: how much of the artist goes into a song? No such qualms when it comes to Snoh Aalegra. Here is a woman with the talent and passion to carry an album; she puts her soul and vision into the music- only employing others to help augment and contextualise sound. Enthroned in passion and mystique: the world is going nuts for a seriously
I suggest you go out and buy Don’t Explain– it is available on SoundCloud but the Snoh deserves money after creating something this good. It’s Just a Fever (Intro.) has vocal snippets: dialogue from films and old a real sense of vintage glamour. Here is a wonderful interlude that makes you smile and gets your head in a dreamy paradise. I am not sure whether this was written for the record- or taken from old films- but the words seem very apt. The lines: “What use is warmth if it can’t keep you well?/It’s just a fever” make you very curious and are remarkable sentiments. There is imagery of illness and love; a mixture of visions and emotions. Even within a few seconds; Snoh Aalegra has planted the seeds and set the tone of Don’t Explain. The one-minute song has charm and background strings; layers of audio and a sense of sweeping romance underpinning it. No listener will be immune to its warmth, wisdom and brilliance.
In Your River is the latest single and has gained an avalanche of praise and investigation. The track looks at dealing with infatuation and a sensational bond- so deep in a trance everything else starts to disappear. Whether Snoh wrote it during a particular romance- maybe a passion that was burning and intoxicating- it results in a truly dizzying moment. Tumbling beats remind me of Trip-Hop acts like Massive Attack. There is a feeling of ‘90s glory mixing alongside something older-days and ‘70s-influenced. Backed by aching, evocative strings: that beautiful and smoky voice drips with honey, soul and affection. Within a few notes you learn so much about our heroine: what makes her heart tick and how her mind works; the need to regain focus and step back from something bigger than her. The invariable comparisons to Amy Winehouse will arrive; that is no minor compliment. In the way the sadly-departed icon gripped you with that cigarette-ravished voice: Snoh has an equally gorgeous and electrifying tone. Not as aged and worn as Winehouse: there is a purity and caramel-dipped sweetness that mixes into the boiling pot. Our girl confesses she never knows “what to do”. She is trying to please her man and is ignoring her own wishes and life. So deep in the throes of love: the composition perfectly encapsulates the changing moods and seasons; the way the head spins and the heart beats- the swirling, drugged effect love can have. Sparse beats and parping horns melt; rising strings sit with something tribal and brutal- as our heroine lets her voice roar and rise. You get the sense (In Your River) is a mixtape: perhaps four or five songs expertly knotted together. Realising her best is “not good enough” you sense that pain and defeat: maybe she set herself unrealistic expectations. The song switches courses and goes from investigative reflection to defiant shout. A stunning composition that packs so much in: many have compared this song to a Bond theme. You can see it scoring a new Bon film: something dangerous and seductive. The espionage theme is far superior to Sam Smith’s recent effort. You have all the components of a classic film: your head switches between James Bond-esque chase and a classic film- where the heroine walks away from a dangerous love. To the very last note, you are invested in a pure and graveled voice that possesses so much power and conviction. It takes multiple listens to drink the song in: different spins will see you focus on different aspects. By the final note you sit back aghast: having heard something truly life-affirming.
Charleville 9200 (ft. James Fauntleroy) is the third track from Don’t Explain and takes us in a different direction. The opening pair seemed like a connective suite. The opening interlude perfectly backed In Your River. Both numbers had their heads between the ‘40s and ‘70s: love was being looked at in a very classic and honest way. With those James Bond theme-esque instruments creating something epic: the listener is curious to hear what arrives next. The hollow, edge beats- they roll and tumble- reminded me of a classic Soul number: the type you could see James Brown killing. There is an edginess and contemporary vibe that sees Snoh check the mic- “One, two…”- and welcoming in a dramatic and gorgeous number. In terms of motivation; the song is based on true events. Written with Fauntleroy: the song reflects on a blissful memory for Snoh Aalegra. After sitting/lying on the grass with her boy- kissing his eyelids as strangers walked by- there is an element of high school cheese and juvenile cuteness that backs this song. Declaring “This is how it feels to be alive” you get inside the song and are sat with the lovers. The energy- passed through the boy to her- this movie vibe- sets the scene and captures the heart. A sweeter, more high-pitched vocal- to represent the song’s youthful purity- you see another side to Snoh. Again, you get the insatiable beats and tender elements. Whilst this romance is not perfect: every step they take is like a movie. It is great hearing the heroine swimming in a pure and wonderful memory. Whether she is still with her love- and the relationship has blossomed- or it is in the past: you cannot ignore the importance of the track. Your feet are whipped by the militaristic drumroll; the piano plinks and adds a graceful step; a concoction of sounds and emotions. Fauntleroy comes in with his smooth and chocolate-rich voice. Beautifully contrasting our heroine: he acts as the song’s hero; giving the song serenity, seduction and allure. The two vocalists seem like a match made in Heaven: both are able to get inside the head and evoke something quite indescribable. “A tidal wave in my bed” is a very unique- and quite vivid- representation of this love. Sweaty and animalistic at times; the duo is surrendering to their instincts and submitting to the feeling. As the song comes to its end; there is a clear aim: get into a car and just drive away together. Wherever they are headed- somewhere new or familiar- you see them cruise into the sunset; together in each other’s arms. The electronics warp and crash like waves; the vocals have that R&B-cum-Soul vibe: an emotive and rushing end to a wonderful song.
Home begins with a building electronic motif that brings together snatches of voices and ghostly echoes. Before a word is sung you picture what is coming next: your mind starts to work and project little scenes and figures. Snoh arrives at the microphone with that soulful and bold voice ready to work. Written with Sam Drew: it is a track about what makes home: whether it is somewhere you live or where you have loved ones. After travelling across the planet to chase he dreams- leaving Sweden behind- it was an odd and uprooting process. These confusions and experiences come through strongly. Seeing herself as a wanderer and roamer: she has been homeless and directionless for a while. Alter feeling dislocated for a while: now our heroine is home and has a place she called her own. There is a real ‘70s Soul that runs through the track. The multi-tracked vocals and looking-for-safety lyrics put me in mind of Stevie Wonder, to a great extent. Snoh Aalegra sounds effortless when in this milieu: someone naturally comfortable when channeling the bliss and genius of Wonder; making that sound very much her own. An agile and nimble song that has a distinct sense of purpose: it is one of the most personal and stand-out from the mini-album. You get a contemporary vibe- a song that could soundtrack the club floors of L.A.- that site effortless with sounds of Soul’s past. A catchy and soul-baring number: it marks a blissful half-way mark.
Don’t Explain’s title track welcomes in the next half with a bang. This is a Billie Holiday number that means a lot to Snoh. A song about living in the moment and not thinking about the future: some things do not need to be explained. It is a brave and impressive choice; one you might not expect to hear in 2016. Few artists cover Holiday now and that is a shame: her songs have such power and inspiration; they are timeless and filled with truth and wisdom. Those sparring, fighting beats come in- the trademark from the heroine- and introduce a smooth and delicious vocal. Not trying to mimic Holiday: what you get is a very personal representation of an important song. Adapting the words for her own means; you can tell how crucial and appropriate Don’t Explain is. Sentiments like “I’m completely yours” and “You know that I love you” get your mind thinking: who was she directing these words to? An intriguing chapter that is expressed with some of the most beautiful and pure vocals I have heard in a while. Beats keep beating and flowing; evocative strings bring a touch of the ‘40s and ‘50s to the fray- united; you get a wonderful, vivid impression. Snoh has always been exceptional when it comes to composition- and her producers help too- and here you get a fine example. You would not recognise this song from the original: it has been reinvented and made to sound completely new. Few artists can cover a song and make it seem like an original: this sounds like a true Snoh Aalegra track; that is an impressive feat indeed.
Under the Influence is a two-part song that deals with love’s dangers. Snoh wrote the song(s) based around the notion of love as a drug: you might leave someone- thinking it’s for the best- but want them even more. Trying to go cold turkey can be a rather tricky thing. Ensuring the mini-album employs different ideals, themes and emotions: we witness something rather shaky and uncertain. Opening the song with cooing vocals and cinematic strings: the influence of Amy Winehouse creeps back in. One cannot help but imagine her when Snoh comes to sing: her subject matter could easily fit inside Back to Black. I mean this with the greatest faith and respect: Snoh Aalegra takes Winehouse’s best assets and puts her own heart and soul into the music. J.P. Saxe gets a writing credit on a song who keeps its sentiments simple and direct. The words see the two lovers trying to distance and make sense of things. Our heroine is a little afraid (both are); feels she must be alone: when she is with her man; she is caught in his inescapable spell. Perhaps the finest composition on the mini-album: the detail and attention is a marvel. The same can be said of the vocal delivery: so many emotions and expressions are uttered; each with the utmost professionalism and sense of drama. An accomplished singer that makes you shiver and sigh: Snoh’s voice is at its very peak here. In pure Soul territory: our girl is caught under the influence and fighting a losing battle. Whether she can walk away or not: you yearn for her and hope things will be okay. The boy is confused and the two are working things out. The boy has “never felt anything like this” and you wonder just HOW explosive the love is. Clearly, Snoh Aalegra is a woman who can reduce a man to his knees. Every relationship she has been in: she has turned boys into men; seduced them with little effort; left them a gibbering wreck. It seems both needs to cool-off and take time out for themselves. In so much as you want the story to end- so they can both find peace- you do not want the song to end. That electric, unstoppable voice elicits something primeval and instant: you close your eyes and are helpless to refute its kiss. The composition goes from simple and teasing to rousing and firework-heavy. One of the finest songs on Don’t Explain: this song will be a live favourite for sure. We can all identify with its messages and empathise with the heroine.
The song’s second part sees John Mayer on guitar: he was so stunned by the track he insisted on featuring. The Blues-tinged coda is a stunning performance- with so many strands and ideas. A lusty, mellifluous thing: the guitar luxuriates and floats in a mellow sky. Lip-licking and sensuous: a wonderful way to end the song. This is Mayer vibing and feeling the weight of the song: closing his eyes and letting his guitar do some talking. It would have been foolhardy to nix this line- thinking it indulgent somewhat- but it works brilliantly. Effectively an instrumental track, it not only concludes the song the right way: it stands on its own feet and gives the mini-album another contour and side.
Don’t Explain has acted as a concept album of sorts: a continuous story with various chapters; a film with progressing scenes. We have not reached the finale: the end of the classic that sees the characters wrapping things up. It’s All On Me sees Snoh reflect on what has come before- those dangerous love affairs and decisions made- and realising it is all on her. Whatever has happened- and whether she has her heart broken- she is responsible for this. A mature and impressive deceleration from an intelligent woman: one who does not blame others and takes responsibility for things. The spoken word snippet expresses this confession: like the introduction; we hear weeping strings score a classic-sounding film snippet. The heroine- again; whether it is Snoh or a well-sourced film- confesses to making a mess- maybe some unwise choices have been made along the way. Everything is brought down in a gentle and soul-searching vignette. Under one-minute long: it is a beautiful way to wrap things up…
Well it would were it not for the ‘hidden track’: this is the ‘end credits’ and the chance to get a last shot of the main feature. Chaos is another cover version: this time from the wonderful Sia. It is wonderful to think of two disparate musicians: Billie Holiday and Sia. It shows what a breadth and range of idols Snoh has. It is a perfect choice as- the previous cover- looked at older times and a Blues legend. Here, we get someone modern-day and more relevant. Whereas the Holiday cover will resonate with those of a certain age- and inspire new listeners- the Sia cover is more aimed at younger audiences. Once again- and with every track on this record- it is given a fresh perspective and completely different take. Hot and racing beats fuse with crackling electronics. When Snoh comes to the microphone she delivers one of her most direct and earnest performances. Recorded three years ago; it is one of the oldest inclusions. Our heroine loved the song- upon its original release- and was compelled to record it. You have a song that, once more, sound like an original. Lines that look at chaos itself- “What am I to do/without chaos?”- seem ready-made for the mini-album. The entire song looks at chaos effect and results- a butterfly flapping its wing- and employs metaphors for love and desire into the song. Such a shrewd choice (of song) for Snoh who gives the track new meaning and a wonderful performance. Dramatic and atmospheric: you are drawn into the unpredictability and making-sense-of-it-all confusion that is unfolding. It is here you get the most unique and personal vocal from Snoh: she casts off influences and sounds like a woman reborn. In previous numbers, we hear bits of Soul and Blues greats; ‘70s masters and ‘00s influencers- here this is very much Snoh Aalegra. Even though this track was recorded in 2013: it sounds utterly relevant and fresh. Layering her voice- giving the song a head-spinning and drugged wooze- we get a wonderful swansong. It pulls all the themes of Don’t Explain together: leaving the listener wanting (a lot) more.
Congratulations must be given to Snoh Aalegra who has produced one of this year’s most important records. As I type- I have been writing this for the last few hours- I am watching her Twitter feed. The comments and praise and coming in fast: she responds to each one with charming emoticons and thanks. When the rest of the world hears Don’t Explain- she will get a lot more feedback in the next 24-hours- that is when things start to happen. A gorgeous and dramatic 9-track release; a powerful, personal and divine creation: you will be listening to this time and time again. Kudos must be given to producers No ID and DJ Dahi; Boi-1da and Frank Dukes; Christian Rich (In Your River). The team has naturally fitted into the groove and bring the best from Snoh.
Every track has a distinct vibe- thanks to the production hand- but every track fits together seamlessly. The track order is perfect to ensure the mini-album is neither top or bottom-heavy. There is a perfect weight distribution and an unfolding story. It is like a drama/film playing out: the early uncertainty to the explosive love; walking away and finding a safe place. The L.A.-based musician mixes ‘30s and ‘40s snippets together with ‘70s Soul and modern-day beats. You get so many ideas, genres and time periods playing together: lesser artists would make a mess of it. In authoritative and skilled hands; we have an accomplished and stunning thing. The songwriting is impressive, intelligent and nuanced throughout. Whether combining with other songwriters or solo-ing: the words stay in the mind and always elicit a response. You would query whether a coupe of cover versions should go into a record of such importance. Not only are both choices completely right and essential: they give Snoh the chance to channel a different lyrical style and explore new ground. Effortlessly reinterpreting Billie Holiday and Sia: this shows a young artist who is one of the finest interpretive voices on the planet. Overall, you have a mini-album that is unforgettable, indispensable indeed. Whether Snoh will read this or not, she must realise: the buzz and praise is not going to stop anytime soon. The demand will be on for that next record: not bad from a woman who has spent a lot of time traveling and finding ‘home’. When it comes to music; she has very-much found her place. Let us all hope she continues this momentum and carries on with the music. Don’t Explain is a wonderful achievement from one of the world’s brightest voices.
In Your River was released a matter of days ago and received huge acclaim and feedback. The lead-off single from Don’t Explain: it has been championed around the world and is a sensational song. It was the perfect window into one of music’s most special and original voices. Given the fact Don’t Explain has just been unveiled: the future is very much that of Snoh Aalegra. I can see her going on to big things this year. Once the mini-album truly hits- picks up more reviews and gets radio play- the festivals and venues will come a-calling! Let’s hope Snoh’s itinerary includes London: there are those here that need to see her in the flesh. From there, well who knows?! I was staggered by the depth, nuance and addictiveness throughout Don’t Explain. Even though it is a 28-minute, 9-track record: you have so many ideas and blissful moments. In the middle is that intoxicating and jaw-slacking voice: one that makes the heart melt and lips salivate. With Snoh Aalegra you have that trouser-troubling, blush-inducing beauty; the hip-shaking, voice-ringing panache- a complete package that we have not seen the likes of. Over the course of the last year- when the song Emotional was released- there has been a progression and evolution. Back then- and when her E.P. was dropped- the heroine was keen to collaborate on writing duties- all-too-eager to share her pen with others. Now, there is that increase in confidence and personality. Snoh is emerging from a chrysalis with vivid wings and multi-coloured lustre. A butterfly with a cigarette in her mouth: I am fascinated by everything the young artist comes up with. I am a relatively latecomer to the Swedish-born singer. Snoh always knew what she wanted to do: from a tender age, she knew music was her calling. Even as a teenager- when thoughts and dreams are capricious and ever-changing- that determination and goal remains unchanged. Having been surrounded by the sound of Lauryn Hill and Michael Jackson; Prince and the best from music: you can see why she was compelled to follow in their footsteps. Many musicians adore their heroes and try to reproduce their sound. Not the case with Snoh Aalegra. She has a foundation of Hill and Jackson- the raw and earthy beats; the strong, proud lyrics; the swagger and swing- but cannot be compared with another. It is only left for me to congratulate Snoh Aalegra and pray she comes my way. I know there will be demands from around the world- even as we speak.
I know how much effort and herself went into Don’t Explain. She has been giddy and excited for weeks now: keen to share her work with the general public. Judging by the initial reaction- effusive praise and profanity-laden love- you can judge for yourself. In Your River was met with ecstatic reception and (Don’t Explain’s) companion tracks will gain a similar reaction. Throughout the 9 numbers you get a consistency and variegation juxtaposition. The music has an identity and stems from the same woman: no two songs sound the same; so much ground is covered. If you have not fallen in love with Snoh Aalegra, then you are about to. Don’t Explain is a marvelous work from a stunning human. Previous E.P., There Will Be Sunshine, mixed Swedish elements (the introduction Stockholm) with a woman discovering her voice and place. The 6-track record mixed negativities- bad sh** unfolding around her- with positivity and hope for better days. Right from the start, the unique and beautiful voice gave each track candour, emotion and huge weight. Turn the clocks forward a year and Sweden is replaced with America. The Persian roots bubble in the background but what we have is a young woman in a new place exploring new visions. With each passing year; we see a leap in confidence and the most exceptional songwriting to date. Whether inspired by a particular guy- heartbroken or yearning for someone special- it has gone into a creation that you will not forget. Just look at the cover art to Don’t Explain and it says it all. You have (our heroine) is a headscarf and shades: driving along and heading for Hollywood Hills. The pink-dressed, rabbit-holding example gives a sad look to camera. Elsewhere you get tableaus of progressing passion: our girl being dripped by the hero; going in for the kiss. In another image- on the bottom right side- you have potential conflict and argument. Each picture tells what goes into the mini-album. Don’t Explain has heartache and regret; there is lust and passion- explosion and a rebellious soul. At its heart is a relatable and honest young woman who bares her soul in the music. She has a huge connection with her fans and an endless love for music. If you need any further proof Snoh Aalegra is one of this year’s hottest properties: let her latest record spin and…
SURRENDER to its immense charms.
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