Rosie Lowe’s debut album Control, released in 2016, introduced the London-based singer into the spotlight with her intoxicating blend of electronica, soul, and RnB. More political and socially pointed in themes, Lowe looked outward as she dissected her place in broader society. But with her latest record, YU, Lowe examines the intricacies of being with another person. “I wanted to write about my experience of sharing my life with another as a lover, friend and partner,” she states.
“Lifeline” opens the record with dreamy, swelling synths. Her calming, seductive voice becomes increasingly more manipulated and bended out of its natural state, adding layers of autotune and reverb as it progresses. “It could all be so simple,” she repeats throughout the song. Her relationships are finding more complexity, as the track also becomes less straightforward with its interlocking synths. It smoothly transitions into “The Way” with quiet organ and some twinkling synths. The verses feature a subtle 808 beat, swapping to acoustic drums in the chorus, a welcome contrast. Lowe has a knack for starting a track from sparseness and slowly building its dynamics. Soon the reserved organs in the beginning are morphing into stabbing keys, counterpointing harmonies, and screeching electric guitar at the song’s cathartic climax. Jay Electronica is brought in at the end for a relaxed verse; his calming and smooth delivery helps segue into the next song.
“Birdsong”, the record’s first single, contrasts one’s desires versus one’s insecurities according to Lowe. A real highlight, Lowe showcases an elevated sense of sass and confidence. Groovier than other cuts on the album, the track is built on creeping electronic glitches. The chorus has a gospel influenced feel as her voice is complemented by the P Funk Choir of Jamie Woon, Jamie Lidell, Jordan Rakei and Kwabs. For an album that tends to lean into subtlety and restraint, its overtly large moments are a well-earned change of pace.
Rosie Lowe cites Erykah Badu as a main inspiration, and that influence and her love of jazz music shines through heavily on “Pharoah”. While starting with a bluesy garage-like jam, she seemingly drops the song’s beat on top of it. On the verses, Lowe gives and takes with her expressive, staccato cadence. In a song about her own empowerment, she compares herself to Cleopatra. “Power in my mouth, power in the imperfections that make me.”
YU demonstrates an impressive cohesiveness, aided in large part by its well-orchestrated interludes: the soulful “Valium”, the sultry “Body/Blood”, and the fluttering “Shoulder”.
“Mango” juxtaposes spacious, dream pop-inspired sections with a more lustful, sinister chorus carried by dark synths and a sneering attack from Lowe. “ITILY” (I Think I Love You) is constructed around a skeletal electronic pattern with nuanced dynamic shifts. Bird chirps are heard throughout the instrumental, giving it a daydream-like quality. There is a beautiful tenderness to her vocals on this song. Before the first chorus, she pauses and lets out an audible “shit” as she realises her coming feelings for this other person. It is a quiet, understated anthem of passion and desire.
“Little Bird” once again showcases Lowe’s unique talent for slowly building a track’s tension. What starts with a funky acoustic guitar ends with some menacing electric distortion. Lowe studied the saxophone as a child, and her adoration for the instrument is vividly displayed. “Royalty” is a change of pace with its wonky electronics. Lowe’s vocal talents are incredibly diverse, and here she shines with her velvety delivery. “I’m not your royalty… you say I’m a queen, I don’t want to be.” Lowe is not impressed by her one night stand, and bluntly shares her lack of desire for anything more with this person.
“UEMM” (You Ease My Mind) is the most rock-based cut on the album. Like other more grandiose moments on the record, Lowe’s use of restraint and her comfortableness with quiet introspection allow phrases like this to have a more pronounced effect on the listener.
Unfortunately, for a rather solid album, YU does not have a particularly strong closing. The piano ballad “Apologise” is underwhelming and pales in comparison to the rest of the album. It has a classiness reserved for the jazz clubs, but texturally it is too empty. This could be fine, but the songwriting here is not strong enough to carry the tune on its own.
YU’s modern, sophisticated sheen has much to do with the help of producer Dave Okumu. Okumu has worked with artists such as Grace Jones and Jessie Ware, and you can hear similarities to the sound of those artists on this album. With the expertise of Okumu and Lowe’s years of musical training and diverse influences, YU successfully expresses the fragility of love, passion, and the need for intimate companionship. Lowe is a formidable presence in the already stacked world of sphere RnB music.
YU is released Friday 10th May via Wolf Tone