2017, Music

Ctrl (2017) by SZA

Whatever I might think of SZA is effected by her singing style which employs so-called cursive singing. Now, she doesn’t use it anywhere as much as some other vocalists, which is nice, but she does use it.

Now I absolutely hate cursive singing. I know people have been changing the way they sing words ever since people began to sing, but I’m well past the point in my life in which I could have accepted this particular innovation. I was probably already too old when it first appeared, and certainly didn’t listen to R&B, so it’s too late for me.

The good thing for me is that SZA sings in cursive judiciously, or at least relatively judiciously. So I only get annoyed occasionally. She’s much closer to a more traditional R&B singer making use of the technique here and there then outright adopting it like some other contemporary singers.

It’s interesting to me that this is viewed by many as “alternative R&B” or “neo-soul.” I think that is based on the production, and maybe the songs, more than it is on SZA’s performance itself. Though there are certainly some relatively out-there tracks for R&B – such as the one mostly reliant on detuned guitar, or the songs that end without a traditional coda, or have a false ending or whatever. But it still doesn’t feel that quirky and weird to me, and I think that’s because SZA’s voice is so far forward in the mix – as is tradition in R&B – and because she does have a bit of “diva” aspect to her performance, even if she never completely falls into that role.

I guess I just wish it was weirder/quirkier. It’s part of the way there, and it’s certainly creative. But it does feel, from my very limited experience of R&B music in the teens, that we’re in a bit of a golden age for neo-soul/alternative R&B and I’m not 100% sure this record is as distinct and compelling as the best ones.

6/10

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