2020, Music

Before Love Came to Kill Us (2020) by Jessie Reyez

There are singers who use cursive singing sometimes and then there’s Jessie Reyez. I have long struggled to think cursive singing is even singing but I have been trying – honestly, I have been trying – to accept that cursive singing is just a newish approach to singing that has become popular. It’s no different from other vocal innovations, so I’m told. But I still absolutely hate it. And it’s really, really, really hard to enjoy an album where the singer is the prime focus and she insists and singing in cursive most of the time, even though she’s clearly a talented traditional singer!

It feels like she even raps in cursive. I understand that the description of whatever she is doing when she’s rapping probably isn’t “cursive” but you can still hear it in her voice. (She also has what I would call the “Toronto Catholic School” accent when she raps.) And the few moments where she lets loose and shows us her pipes only serve as a reminder that she’s not doing that most of the time. (Imagine you’re listening to Mariah but instead of singing like she normally sings, she tried to sound like a toddler most of the time.)

Many of these songs are catchy. The lyrics feel very Gen Z to me but that’s just me being an old man. She does sound young and I would be more forgiving of what to me sounds like young lyrics if she was 19 when she put this out instead of 29. But it’s entirely possible that if she sang these lyrics like a more traditional R&B singer I wouldn’t have noticed how young she sounds. Cursive singing sounds, to me, like you’re trying to sound like you imagine a child or baby would sound like if they could sing, especially when women do it. (I know that’s not fair!) This is especially true of Reyez’s version of this type of singing, which sounds especially faux-childlike. (“Ankles” makes me want punch a wall or burn something down.) It makes the lyrics sound younger as a result.

The production is fine, I think. Maybe it’s even good on some songs. It’s really hard for me to concentrate on it. It’s a little too poppy, not quirky enough. But it’s varied which feels like a compliment. It’s just that I’m so distracted.

Listen, I’d love to tell you cursive singing is the death of civilization or at least music and that this extreme example of it is somehow a harbinger of the musical apocalypse. But I know it’s just a style of singing that is too new for me, that appeared after I was too old to be okay with it, to get used to it. (I don’t like listening to children sing!) It’s just not for me and that’s okay.

Reyez seems really talented, at least as a performer if not quite there as a songwriter. (The title track is a great song and she almost doesn’t ruin it.) But I just hate, hate, hate the way she performs. And no matter how much respect I want to give her for making music in multiple genres, being able to sing really well when she wants to (and mastering cursive singing to my great chagrin), and playing multiple instruments, I just can’t get there. I hate the vocals on this record that much. (I heard a voice in a Canadian TV ad recently and I felt attacked.)

Just 100% not for me.


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