Elle Varner
Perfectly Imperfect

R&B/pop hooks are easy to remember and sing along with, by design. So, it’s interesting when a hook comes along that is complicated and difficult to mimic, yet so infectious that people still want to belt it out, with no regard to how horrible and off-key they sound. Think Beyonce’s “Love on Top”— one can barely stop at a traffic light these days without being subjected to someone struggling to match B’s every octave change. So, it’s a testament to the powers of newcomer Elle Varner that she has already, at this stage in her career, created a single with a challenging, high-octave hook that folks can’t seem to stop singing.

“Refill,” which is on the 23-year-old L.A. native’s major label debut, “Perfectly Imperfect,” is a mix of country fiddlin’, impressive vocal runs and slick R&B production that comes together really well. The single (which is about feeling drunk on emotion, not actual alcohol, FYI) has been out for a while, but suddenly, tons of people are walking around screaming out its chorus (”Can I get a Reeee-filllllll?”), and failing to hit all of the high notes Varner nails with ease.

That track, plus the hip-hop/R&B collaboration “Only Wanna Give It to You,” feat. J Cole, are strong, commercial offerings. The mix of those mainstream tracks and the edgier songs on the album make “Perfectly Imperfect” a pretty spectacular debut.

“Welcome Home” is a slightly gritty soul piece that explores the enduring pressures of striving for an idyllic life. Varner replaces the proverbial white picket fence with a “kitchen with an island,” but comes to the conclusion that “anything can be love and anywhere can be home.” “Damn Good Friend” is a beautiful acoustic-guitar-heavy ballad that some will recognize as the song that served as the perfect bittersweet outro music for the critically acclaimed Dee Rees film “Pariah.”

“Oh What A Night,” should satisfy anyone disappointed to learn that “Refill” isn’t a drinking song. The hook — ”Oh what a night/oh what a night/ Straight shots of Patron and a slice of lime” — is a lot simpler and more literal, but also a lot easier to sing along with, too.

Cover art for Elle Varner's album “Perfectly Imperfect.” (Courtesy of RCA)

Sarah Godfrey

Recommended Tracks

“Damn Good Friends,” “Refill,” “I Don’t Care”