Aalegra’s music is strangely subtle, too. Instead of approaching R&B as a bold exteriorization of the soul, her songs tiptoe inward, toward those quicksand corners of the brain where vivid feelings struggle to coagulate into coherent thoughts. In the past, we’ve turned to R&B for its ability to articulate our most explicit emotions, but Aalegra likes to sing about the failure to feel in the first place. Instead of making a big entrance, she begins the album with a sigh: “See, I don’t really care.”
This isn’t some radical upending of tradition. Over the past seven years, nearly all of pop music has cooled into something smoother, more midtempo, less intense, more ambiguous. Maybe it has something to do with the frictionless experience being sold by music-streaming services, where the “chill” aesthetic has forced today’s pop stars to reconsider their work as background music. Or, when it comes to the love songs, maybe it’s just a symptom of today’s slippery digital dating pool, where young romances seem to lack clean starts and stops. Either way, this sound — muddled, breezy, numbing, hypnotic — is here to stay for a while, and we should be listening for its nuance.
Aalegra makes that job easier than most. Her voice is all grace and clarity as it moves across her throat, but when it’s time to verbalize the melody, she becomes artfully tentative, making her lyrics go soft and chewy in her mouth. These smooshed coos communicate so much. When she smudges the brightest lines of “Indecisive,” you can hear her struggling to commit to the words as they land on her lips. When she sings “I’m confused” near the end of the first verse of “Lost You,” we’re already well aware of her disorientation.
It’s nice of her to invite us inside her messy head space, but there’s still a deep sense of solitude in these songs, so it feels jarring whenever Aalegra’s collaborators make their presence known. On both of her duets with rapper Tyler, the Creator — two brisk cuts, “Neon Peach” and “In the Moment” — Aalegra sings as if she’s in a different recording studio, or even a different dimension.
Maybe oblivion is the point. On “Just Like That,” an airy love letter that traces some of Janet Jackson’s finest skywriting, Aalegra describes the physical intimacy that she’s searching for as a wordless, synesthetic, out-of-body experience: “Let the colors say what we’re thinking.” When desire is confusion, bliss is the void? Maybe.
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