SZA – “S.O.S.” review

This is the highly anticipated sophomore effort from St. Louis singer/songwriter SZA. Emerging about a decade ago in the alternative R&B scene off the strength of her first 2 EPs SEE·SZA·RUN & S, she would eventually sign to Top Dawg Entertainment in the summer of 2013 & has since made herself home with the west coast label by putting out her 3rd EP Z alongside the RCA Records distributed full-length debut CTRL. But with the 5 year anniversary of the latter passing by over the summer, she’s returning in the form of S.O.S.

The title track opens things off with a stripped back instrumental from Jay Versace sampling “Until I Found The Lord (My Soul Couldn’t Rest)” by Gabriel Hardman expressing her desire to take what’s rightfully her’s whereas “Kill Bill” has a more spacious quality to it thanks to Carter Lang singing about how mature she is. “Seek & Destroy” however has a moodier vibe calling out someone who pushed her to her capacity, but then “Low” goes into trap territory talking about keeping shit on the DL.

Meanwhile on “Love Language”, we have SZA on top of an aquatic beat asking for transparency leading into “Blind” diving into more drumless turf confessing that she can’t see the things she needs & the love she seeks. “Used” returns to a more atmospheric quality courtesy of DJ Dahi singing about feeling like it’s over & something callin’ to get closer just before the seductive” Snooze” produced by Babyface lets her lover know just how important he is to her.

“Notice Me” returns to a more trap-based sound explaining that she doesn’t need to be this dude’s lover while “Gone Girl” admits that she needs more space & security over a piano instrumental with some finger-snaps featuring co-production from Emile & Jeff Bhasker. “Smoking on My Ex Pack” goes full-blown chipmunk soul rapping about an ex of hers for 83 seconds while “Ghost in the Machine” ponders if one could distract her from all the disaster over a rich yet minimal beat.

Continuing from there with “F2F”, the guitars throughout were unexpected yet welcoming as SZA admits that she hates herself enough for the 2 of them while “Nobody Gets Me” keeps the acoustics around courtesy of benny blanco singing about being misunderstood by everyone except the person that she’s currently with. “Conceited” is a tropical trap banger acknowledging how introverted she’s always been while “Special” works in some more finger-snapping & an airy backdrop feeling like she’s a loser when I personally feel like she’s far from it considering I’ve been a fan of her music since high school.

“Too Late” has a more cloudy yet peppy tone to the instrumental as the lyrics address 2 lovers that’re dangerous for each other while “Far” talks about being unable to trust anyone & done getting fucked over with some synths & hi-hats laced together by Beat Butcha. “Shirt” comes through with an alternative R&B/trap hybrid admitting that she likes feeling lost while the Travis Scott-assisted “Open Arms” comes with a guitar-driven sequel to “Love Galore” talking about devotion.

The song “I Hate U” has some downchill/vaporwave undertones to it expressing her disscontempt for an ex in her life while the penultimate track “Good Days” is a remarkable neo-soul cut pulling from neo-psychedelia & chamber folk singing about focusing on the positives in her life. “Forgiveless” however is a boom bap closer starting off with a sample of “The Stomp” by the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard of the almighty Wu-Tang Clan & SZA calling out those disrespecting her behind her back.

Between this as well as Kendrick’s latest album Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers alongside Ab-Soul’s comeback effort Herbert dropping next weekend, 2022 has been the best year that TDE has had in quite some time. The production is more contemporary, yet her songwriting is as strong as before & her performances come off as genuinely passionate. Whether she actually quits making music or not because she’s been teasing it forever now or we get a new body of work from her at some point, anyone who loves the alternative R&B trailblazer as much as I do would consider this a welcoming return.

Score: 4/5

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SZA – “CTRL” review

After a series of countless delays following the release of her fantastic Z EP back in 2014, Top Dawg Entertainment’s 1st lady SZA is finally releasing her full-length debut. The album kicks off with the track “Supermodel”, where basically SZA telling her ex that she cheated on him on Valentine’s Day to understandably get back at him for going out to Vegas that day & the instrumental has a wavy guitar along with some bass & some organic drums. The next song “Love Galore” with Travi$ Scott seems to follow that opening track up, as it talks about her ex wanting to get back with her when she doesn’t over some wailing synths. The track “Doves in the Wind” is a dedication to pussy with a spacey instrumental & the guest verse from Kendrick Lamar fits into the song perfectly. The song “Drew Barrymore” reflects on a low self-esteem version of SZA herself & not only does the instrumental on here enhance the emotion of the song, but it’s also infectiously catchy. Especially with the strings near the end of the track. The track “Prom” is pretty much SZA promising herself to get better as she gets older & the instrumental will make you wanna throw a party. The song “The Weekend” talks about being this guy’s side chick during the weekends (hence the title) & while I love the spacey synths at the beginning along with how the smooth keys throughout, the cliché snares just sound meh to me. The track “Go Gina” talks about this guy bringing her out of her character when he’s around her & the production from Frank Dukes primarily has these winking chimes & some drums throughout most of it, but the tension building strings during the last 20 seconds of it are beautiful. The song “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” is pretty much SZA telling this guy that she loves her & even though I appreciate, the trappy production on this track sounds so painfully generic. The track “Broken Clocks” talks about how SZA’s moved on from her ex for the better, despite him still talking about her & while I do enjoy the trophy vocal sample on here, the hi-hats are just average for me. The song “Anything” sees SZA asking her ex if he knows she’s alive & the instrumental on here has this fantastically galactic tone to it. The short but sweet “Wavy” sees SZA singing about how bad as Hell she is as well as looking for a way out over a dreamy instrumental & while James Fauntleroy’s voice does sound muffled during his hook, I still enjoyed it. The song “Normal Girl” is pretty self-explanatory, as it talks about wanting to live the life of a normal girl over a spacey instrumental. The penultimate track “Pretty Little Birds” with Isaiah Rashad is basically the 2 talking about wanting to be together for the rest of their lives & the instrumental is very smooth. Especially with the jazzy trumpets that pop in right before Zaywop’s verse. The album then closes out with the track “20 Something”, where SZA is passionately hoping that she doesn’t lose all of her friends & doesn’t die while she’s in her 20s over nothing but an acoustic guitar that enhances the beauty of this closer. When it seemed like TDE was never gonna release this album, it was well worth the 3 year wait. The production is luscious for the most part, it’s well-written & SZA’s vocals sound both very focused & passionate. If you enjoyed SZA’s early mixtapes & Z as much as I did, then I don’t see why you wouldn’t like this. She’s been one of my favorite R&B singers of this current generation & walking away from this seeing her improving herself just makes me really happy

Score: 4/5