Solana Rowe's music exists in a vacuum, and in the most literal sense of the word. On her new EP Z, sounds are sucked from her lyrics as they progress. Dripping, dragging, floating, whizzing by. Everything but standing still, graspable. SZA prefers it that way.
TDE's lone estrogen hub doesn't drift far from the ethereal nature of Z's predecessors, S and See.SZA.Run. Her longing warbles and bleats dance around cinematic production, seldom sticking to anything. Like her fellow galactic crooners Jhene Aiko and The Weeknd, tangible anchor points are few and far between within her catalogs.
A lack of enunciation gets this close to being a handicap, as work from producers Toro Y Moi, Mac Miller, Marvin Gaye and Emile Haynie nearly swallow her words. Think of it as an IMAX movie without the crystal clarity. It's not necessarily a bad thing, though. What she lacks in concrete sound, she makes up for in effectiveness. SZA's knack for sucking you into the confines of her mind trumps any lapse in audibility.
Z is a project is steeped in nostalgia. Memories – either trying to recollect them or sever from them altogether – are at its nucleus, with thoughts of escape, self-awareness and quests for answers orbiting elsewhere. "Memories keep playing back, all the nights we used to love/Just wondering how we used to was, how we used to was," she sings woozily on "Child's Play."
She shape shifts over the 10 tracks, standing amongst the ruins in the moody and distant "Babylon," leading a haunting choir of spirits in "Green Mile," performing jazz cafe style in "Sweet November" and toeing the line between surrealism and seduction in the heaving "U R."
Most importantly, despite circling critiques that her vocal prowess needs further development, SZA holds her own when in good company. Guest spots from Kendrick Lamar, Chance The Rapper and Isaiah Rashad don't cast shadows over her solos. They merely provide a couple tactile voices on the EP.
In person, SZA may appear withdrawn, timid even, peeking out from beneath the brim of her TDE cap. But on Z she is a confident songstress with a lot to get off her chest, roping you into her otherworld one hovering note at a time.
--Stacy-Ann Ellis (@stassi_x)