Liner Notes: Moving Forward & Reaching Back With Nao's 'February 15' EP


It's not a well-guarded secret, but '90s music --- specifically those that pulse from the R&B and Pop vein --- is on the comeback, and while time will tell if it will wear out its welcome like the 1960s Motown revival that permeated the mid-2000s, right now a handful of artists, like Nao, are steering the vibe away from staleness and sculpting it into something rather exquisite and longer lasting.

In a '90s kind of world is where Nao's latest single, "Inhale, Exhale" belongs. Instead of it sounding as warm as flannel and glistening as doorknocker earrings, its crunchy and sweet like French Toast Crunch, with a Brandy-esque vocal structure that acts as the neon pink feather on the top of Cher Horowitz pen --- breezy, bright, a total Betty of a tune. This just a small growth spurt from the summery lover's escapade that she partook with Jai Paul's brother, A.K. Paul, on their delectable collaboration, "So Good". It was a spiky synth-pop jaunt that foolishly escaped from my grasp last year, but brought ears and eyes to the London native and the breathy swing low soul chirp that graced her debut EP of similar namesake.

Though Nao began plugging her SoundCloud with surrealistic kaleidoscopic trances like "Back Porch" and allowed So Good to thrash and jolt on a diet of '80s synths, with February 15, her sophomore collection is primed with funky grooves and streamlined mid-tempos that pit her in a sweet spot of inventiveness that take her down a new corridor. Highlights like the spastic synth waltz of "Zillionaire" and the trap of bass and electric guitar on the rhythmically groovin' "Golden" are just plain ol' fun to engage in, as they simmer and sizzle out of the pot. Not to retain too much heat, she cools her palette and blows kisses Prince's way on "Apple Cherry" and its a lean New Wave ballad that allows Nao to show off those chops as she reaches a octave heaven that mirrors the heights taken on a-ha's '80s classic "Take On Me". For an even softer touch, she caresses with "It's You", its melodies airy and intimate, reminding one of the slower grooves '90s R&B dames like SWV and Billy Lawrence waxed, as it closes everything out with lacy delicacy.

Whether hyper-kinetic or light on its feet, Nao can confidently stake claim as a distinctive force in 21st century soul/pop cache, as with the risks taken and the artistic ear that she has lent to this small collection, it all will keep her moving forward --- even when she's reaching so nostalgically back.

February 15 is available for purchase and download via iTunes, as well as ready to stream via YouTube and Spotify

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