NAO’s debut album, For All We Know (Little Tokyo/RCA), instilled a set of feels within me that I didn’t expect. It’s very rare that you find an artist that can force you to convey a certain emotion without having experienced the very content that they lay on wax. Alicia Keys’ “Diary” had me thinking I was in a committed relationship with my junior high school crush. I had yet to feel heartbreak at the time, but Beyonce’s “Me, Myself and I” made me feel as if I had my lifeline drilled out of my chest, even though she sought to uplift ladies in the face of heartache. I imagined an everlasting tug-of-war of dilemmas on Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” that made me shake my head with weariness once verse three rolled in. It’s been years since I’ve connected with an artist on that sort of level, and NAO has restored that sentiment.
Witnessing her live performance in New York City earlier this year was telling. I should’ve known that by the looks of enchanted faces in the audience that her forthcoming debut would serve as a return of honesty within music, and within myself. NAO’s previous projects, So Good and February 15, were a perfect primer for the musical foundation that she was building on For All We Know, presenting it in the form of a soundscape that captivates you from track one to minute 53.
Within seven simple lines on “Intro (Like Velvet),” NAO showcases the force yet suppleness behind her vocals, coating your auricle with a tingling sensation thanks to the chords that enter your ears. There’s a simplicity within that melody that seems to be a recurring theme within the Londoner’s album, leaving it up to the listener to transport to their own world of feels with NAO’s vivid lyrics as your tour guide.
She lays her insecurities at the feet of her significant other, or even herself as she stares back at her reflection in the mirror on “Girlfriend,” not knowing if her baggage will find a spot within her relationship to be locked away in storage or grow in size. “Dywm”—which is reminiscent of a pitch similar to Taral Hicks—instills a sense of boldness that erases the gray area where uncertain feelings were once scribbled.
But where her honesty and transparency is defined the most is on “In The Morning.” The night’s previous actions loom above her headboard as an impenetrable smog. The only way for those thick feelings to dissipate is to bare her true self once again with the one she’s sharing her bed with. She presumably paints this picture without fear of judgement, but given her passionate vocal performance of the track, it didn’t feel like an easy release.
That fervent attitude presented within NAO’s lyrics and voice leaves you clinging on to each syllable. At times she stops short with her words and lets the beat talk for her (“Give Me a Little”), or she tackles her self-doubt head-on (“Fool To Love”). The album’s finale, “Feels Like (Perfume)”—which instantly takes me back to the strings and drum patterns on Aaliyah’s “Never No More” track—teases her ex with both sets of lips, lingering scents and permanent recollections that will only be a haunting memory of what recently transpired, or what could be.
For All We Know is a much needed introspection, one that you learn to embrace confidently with each listen. That ability to place you at the center of her love-lost exploits and self-found triumphs makes NAO a relatable soul, speaking truth to moments that only remained in the pages of your mental diary.