Wolf Tone/Caroline International
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[READ our recent interview with Rosie Lowe here.]
My inbox is a hot mess these days, pounded by an increasingly untenable influx of requests for coverage from artists and publicists alike. On one hand, it’s welcome validation that my little labor-of-love project I founded a few years ago is now perceived as an in-demand platform to reach coveted listeners with discerning tastes. On the other hand, it’s more challenging than ever before to truly—and unconditionally—connect with a particular piece of music and sustain my interest over an extended period of time.
Fortunately though, the ever-relentless proliferation of new music has forced me to hone in on the select handful of records that really move me and stand apart from the rest. Such is the case with Control, Rosie Lowe’s debut album that emerged just over three years ago in early 2016, a few weeks after I launched Albumism. As evidenced throughout the entirety of Control, Lowe possesses a preternatural penchant for sophisticated, seductive soul that demands—and commands—your attention. And if you’ve happened to peruse her social media feeds or the various interviews she’s granted over the past few years, it’s immediately clear that she takes her craft very seriously, while balancing her confident approach to songwriting with a fair share of humility and humor.
Among her growing legion of devotees, expectations are high for her sophomore affair, which officially arrives this Friday. And thankfully, with YU, she demonstrates just how cool under pressure she is by delivering an exquisitely crafted stunner of a second album that transcends the promise and power augured by its precursor. Meanwhile, and never one to rest on her creative laurels, Lowe has expanded her already-distinctive, refreshingly unorthodox sonic palette, due in large part to her continued partnership with her musical kindred spirit and co-producer Dave Okumu, who shines here once again, amongst the other featured collaborators.
Comprised of ten proper songs and three accompanying interludes that enhance the album’s immersive ambience overall, YU unfolds as a filler-free, highlight-rich window into the current—and captivating—state of Lowe’s musical muse. Some self-professed critics have myopically referred to Lowe’s songwriting as simplistic at times. But their misguided assessment ignores that fact that her evolving lyricism exacts its strength in its directness and empathy for the fundamental human dichotomy between love and lust, companionship and independence, her words thankfully devoid of embellishment and superficiality.
As standalones that preceded the album’s release, YU’s pair of lead singles (“Birdsong” and “Pharoah”) suggested the exciting new directions that Lowe has taken her sound, and within the broader context of the album, their dynamism is even more palpable. Bolstered by the dream team of supporting vocalists comprised of Kwabs, Jamie Lidell, Jordan Rakei and Jamie Woon, “Birdsong” is a slinky funk and syncopated beat fueled ode to the magnetic force of desire, which finds a defiant Lowe declaring “I don’t want to be your part-time lover / I don’t want you running to the arms of another.”
“Pharoah” follows sequentially in the album’s running order, propelled by Okumu’s guitar-driven soul/funk arrangement loosely indebted to Pharoah Sanders’ “Memories of Edith Johnson” from the saxophone legend’s 1977 album Pharoah. It’s an inspired clarion call of female empowerment and self-awareness that arguably functions as the extension of “Woman” from Control, as Lowe proclaims, “I have power in my arms, power in my legs / power in my mouth, power in my imperfections that make me / a power in my knowledge, power in the magic I do.” In a recent Instagram post, Lowe explains, “I was going through some tough stuff when writing [‘Pharoah’] and the song lyrics became a positive mantra for me. I hope it can be the same for someone else along the way.”
Beyond these sterling initial offerings, additional standouts abound, beginning with the melodic, synth-laden atmospherics of album opener “Lifeline,” the vocals for which were captured in one take, according to Lowe. The album’s most expansive track clocking in at more than six minutes, the meditative, sun-soaked soul of “The Way” is arguably YU’s zenith, a lush love song propelled by a multi-layered, shapeshifting arrangement, Lowe’s endearing hook and Jay Electronica’s evocative rhymes.
Other memorable moments include the Little Dragon-esque liberation anthem “Little Bird,” sparse ode to longing for another “ITILY” (translation: “I Think I Love You”), shimmering shoegaze soul of “Mango,” and hypnotic ballad “UEMM” (“You Ease My Mind”).
At the beating heart of Lowe’s spellbinding second act are the various manifestations of love that compel her—love for herself, for her partner, and for making music. And with YU, a masterclass in modern soul, she has gifted her listeners with a truly inspired record that’s easy to love.
Notable Tracks: "Birdsong" | “Little Bird” | “The Way” | “UEMM”