SZA – “CTRL”, and album breakthrough

She strings into insecurities, wants and needs.

By Mathew Bell

Fears scrunched into a paper ball and warped dreamlike strums of an acoustic guitar introduce me to SZA’s new album “CTRL”. The melody hums and clarifies as SZA scats her words up and down the cords and onto paper with attitude and soul. She strings into insecurities, wants and needs, then the drum kit kicks in and I’m brought from a personal note to a mellow jazzy “ts ta ta ts”. The Supermodel fades with relaxed goodbyes and I’m led out with a new man’s taunting whispers.

Love Galore presents a more saturated Nicki Minage like SZA, repetitive in lyrics and more presented as a pop like figure. SZA confesses in playful vocals, relationship regrets as she flirts with a new fling over an insincere hook. The beat is refreshing, dabbed with pops and cuts over deep intimate grind. Joined by a conflicted and leaned Travis Scott, this song promotes a sense of irony in pleasure.

Doves in the Wind drops a slow, sly and surreal beat as a blowing of vinyl record is phased into a smooth funk rhythm. I fall back into my seat as this relaxing tune along with SZA’s catchy cadence lectures me on vaginal influence. With harmony and layers of bites, I’m guided into a calm Kendrick Lamar binaurally bopping from ear to ear like a conscience. Through the developed vibe I’m then teased out by SZA into an outro of narrated conclusion. This song is fucking brilliant.

Electronic guitar tones supported by tambourines bring me down a level in mood, I’m still relaxed but the vibe has been dropped- like midnight mischief had meandered into a late morning. Drew Barrymore brings SZA back to her impressive vocal ups and downs in a jazz-like rhythm, before breaking into a ladylike slow and soulful rock chorus. SZA apologises for her petty relationship insecurities again in this song, but should not second-guess her ability to twist genres.

At Prom, retro glitches and cuts over a candy-flavoured beat picks up pace; the sped-up tempo is juxtaposed with SZA longingly singing like a Mariah Carey/Disney princess. SZA recovers her swagger and sass in the bridge, before a reversion as her own back up singer. I can see what she was trying to do- however, the beat was very well produced but the vocals left me indifferent.

An atmosphere of Tyler The Creator’s experimental intros suppresses fluttering outside noises and synthesizers warped until the bass drops low into a finger click. SZA soulfully massages her feelings of lust and greed of a shared relationship. The beat is once again very innovative and sets a sexual vibe that works well with SZA’s addictive vocals. But I don’t exactly relate to consensually sharing someone on the Weekend… or do I? DUN! DUN! Dunn….

Go Gina, comes in with a melody induced Hip-Hop/Jazz beat looped and struck delightfully by brass “tings”. SZA confidently struts her cheeky rhythmic techniques, as she’s semi-proud of her high school friend who still enjoys a life of irresponsibility with some backlash. SZA works the music samples well as her accent and casual vibe influences me to slowly bounce with her perspective.

Grown long move bass synths manipulated up in tone and tapped with classic cuts, this Garden produces a fantasy like melody with short subtle chimes for the hook and bubbling electronic keys to bring the mood up in the verses. SZA talks about how she vibes with her lover and how they appreciate her insecurities while consistently working her charismatic magic on this well composed beat.

A distorted soul sample ticked with cuts and patterned by bass tells the time for Broken Clocks, about half way through I was distracted by an advert for another artist and paused the song to go on a detour. Not feeling that vibe either I returned to SZA where she speaks on her romance as a distraction from her working schedule. SZA brings soul and sass to this track and the beat is actually well developed. She may have the love from her man but I have no love or time for the overly animated chorus.

Anything goes with cut short drum snares and sparkling psychedelic swirls of sounds, especially SZA’s awkwardly interesting jazzy like expressions. Breaking away from a solid bass rhythm, I catch myself out of sync with the beat as SZA questions the validation of her relationship whilst still being “down for the ride”.

Sampled from Donna Summer’s “Spring Reprise”, a pop funk love song from the 70’s, it’s apparent that SZA or her producer created a conflicted beat to portray her own contrasting situation.

Building up to a more positive vibe, Wavy, interludes a digitalised and tender James Fauntleroy on chorus and a renewed finger snapping SZA.

A beat you can bop to. Listening to a Normal Girl brings hollow bass thumps, subtle tambourines and soft fluctuating synths to benefit SZA’s soulful insight into her loss of control in the bedroom and in public. On this track SZA’s flirtatious vocals on chorus and in verse work the beat to her advantage and mix things up for this RnB track.

Deep grinding bass “bmm bm bmm bmm”, cut and sprinkled with electronic sunshine creates Pretty Little Birds, which are set free by SZA’s poetic words. I bounce with the baseline and SZA delicately guides me up and down into each drop as she explains she has a troubled past but still wants to be with someone. The unrestricted flutes and saxophones float me to a swerving, self-assured Isaiah Rashad who grunges his verse and joins SZA on the outro that influences a joyous partnership of broken experiences.

Clear, elongated guitar strums resolve this album with a genuine SZA holding out her heart in gratitude for her experiences at the age of 20 something and appreciates that this is what humans go through. And some don’t even make it out of this age bracket. This track shows SZA’s passion, wisdom and hopes for a bright future, I even admit catching some tingles when she confess’ “Hopin’ to keep the rest of my friends. Prayin’ the 20 something don’t kill me”. This soulful, mellow ballad ends with a conversation with SZA and her mum, a huge influence to her, as they complete the album laughing together.

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