[ RCA Records CD / CD ]
Release Date: Friday 3 February 2017
For All We Know is the debut studio album conducted and written by British electronic singer-songwriter Nao.
The concept for the album came about when Nao began to feature vocals with other artists, such as Disclosure and Mura Masa. After the collaboration that she did with Disclosure on their song "Superego", it inspired Nao to work further and deeper into that genre of music. She wanted to make an album which was to bring her to fame and, after the collaborations, wanted her fans to have something to look forward to. The album title, For All We Know was named so after the 1934 jazz song of the same name, as a reference to the artist's background in the genre. In an interview with Billboard, Nao advanced that the album was "a definite nod" to 1990s music and an attempt at transposing it to actuality.
Half of the production from the album was worked on with British DJ and electronic/R&B musician Grades. Grades contributed a very soothing electronic sound to the album. Two of the other albums' producers, Loxe and Jungle, added a funk touch. The other producer, John Calvert, added a dark experimental twist which could be compared with experimental musicians FKA twigs and Kimbra.
On For All We Know, Nao autopsies various relationships-with friends, lovers, outgrown versions of herself-and, having decided what went wrong, calmly takes down the perpetrators. She sings with the weight of lessons learned: "I'm wise and I'm older," a line from "Fool to Love," is a rare instance of personal exposition, but the sentiment was already implied. On "In the Morning," she acts the part of a lover too polite to say it's over. "Buried all my feelings, I'm withholding," she sings, fretfully. "I tried to leave him signs ... Are they hard to recognize?" Following track "Trophy," a new A.K. Paul collaboration, reboots the theme of romantic redemption, firing out a feminist takedown in the dialect of funk expressionism.
Nao's beseeching tones imbue every line with romantic defiance, even when, as on breakout single "Bad Blood," the lost love under her microscope is platonic. On that song's chorus, she accompanies an armada of synth blasts with heaving sighs, as if to hack up the offending memories-"a past that couldn't last"-from her lungs, as well as her mind. These aren't the shallow resolutions of a woman destined to repeat her mistakes.
There are few surprises in the music, but its crisp bombast complements the vocals, playing abrasive beats against silky seduction. Nao is unafraid to fall back on shmoozy late-'90s R&B melodies, allowing snarling, maximalist synths to drag the songs into 2016. "Get to Know Ya," produced by Jungle, opens the record with elastic funk guitars and imploring, melismatic melodies, before the GRADES-produced "Inhale Exhale" bounces it up a notch with a raunchy bass strut that melts away as melodies zipwire across octaves. The music speaks in wonky Soulquarian grooves, playing into Nao's jazz-vocal schooling: Album highlight "Feels Like (Perfume)," a Royce Wood Junior-produced ballad, ventilates D'Angelo's polluted soul with sultry boudoir vibes and an improbably perfect George Harrison-style chorus.
At 54 minutes, the 18-track record begins to feel a little baggy, its uncharismatic drums and textural familiarity giving Nao's paragliding voice one job too many. Even when overlong, though, the songs can impress with their breadth: "Blue Wine," a moment of cosmic relief, winds down to slow-jam tempo, but blossoms into something exquisitely languid and sprawling, a distant cousin to Janelle Monáe's elaborations on R&B balladry. Again, on "Blue Wine," the music feels emotionally descriptive without the need for disclosure-"broken emotions" are the narrator's ailment, we're told. But when vagueness is a catalyst, rather than a stand-in for passion, its evasive profundity teaches you to look for what's missing.
1. Intro (Like Velvet)
2. Get To Know Ya
3. Inhale Exhale
4. Voice Memo 161
6. Voice Memo 162
7. Adore You (feat. Abhi Dijon)
8. In The Morning
9. Trophy (feat. A. K. Paul)
10. Bad Blood
12. We Don't Give A
13. Give Me A Little
14. Fool To Love
15. Voice Memo 4 (Say Yes)
16. Blue Wine
18. Feels Like (Perfume)