Image: Kacie Tomita / RCA Records

Khalid’s American Teen: perfect soundtrack for warm weather identity crisis

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With Warwick term whittling into dusk and long, lonesome summer days beckoning, young El Paso native Khalid’s debut LP: American Teen is just the perfect soundtrack for your annual warm weather identity crisis. Leaping into a well trodden territory and themes such as lost lovers, hazy summer parties and of course- what it means to be “young dumb and broke,” the 19 year old still impressively manages to make his mark on a crowded R’N’B landscape which has become increasingly melancholic, dominated by the likes of Sampha, The Weeknd, PARTYNEXTDOOR and Bryson Tiller to name just a few. With a style more balanced and easy going than the aforementioned artists, Khalid fills American Dream with enough references to shared location pins and late night uber rides combined with well crafted shifts in mood and tone to sculpt a highly engaging piece of work.

American Teen’s title track and album opener introduces first time listeners to Khalid’s signature, synth driven style. He begins proceedings with a raspy, breathless set of opening lines: “Living the good life and the good vibes, my eyes are on the grey sky, saying I don’t wanna come home tonight.” Setting us off on what he very well intends to become a journey based on the highs and lows of late adolescence, the opening mood is a palpable sense of euphoria topped off by a campfire style finish with Khalid strumming a guitar and a gang of his friends chanting the chorus in unison.

The musical equivalent of a lonesome trip across a highway, the middle portion of American Teen moves from bright to brooding

The greatest strength of the album however, is Khalid’s ability to slide through the various feelings that underpin his subject matter with ease. The musical equivalent of a lonesome trip across a highway, the middle portion of American Teen moves from bright to brooding. The young Texan is arguably at his best when playing the role of a wistful, wounded lover. One of the stand-out early offerings: ‘Saved’ is a haunting ode to a dissolved relationship, with a painful sense of loss conveyed by the chorus: “I keep your number saved, because I hope one day I’ll get the pride to call you, to tell you that no one else is gonna hold you down the way I do.” The pain which seeps through ‘Saved’ is only compounded by a seamless transition into ‘Coaster’ another highly dramatic moment of lamenting in which he pointedly croons: “Maybe you weren’t the one for me. But deep down I wanted you to be- I’ll still see you in my dreams.”

Moreover, this isn’t just a chance to reminisce on those teenage relationships which drained you of all grounding and perspective. The dreamy, lucid quality of Khalid’s style brings us back to the more joyous idea of escapism, with ‘Let’s Go’ providing the listener with some emotional respite based on images of leaving all your worries behind and taking to the road on a trip full of possibility, leading to mischievous future adventures. More brooding follows in the form of ‘Winter’ and ‘Cold Blooded’ before Khalid closes the show with ‘Angels,’ a beautifully written  and transcendent final flourish in which Khalid floats above the the angst and worry to declare himself at peace.

Khalid takes the scatterbrained teenage psyche, and manages to channel its each and every cadence without losing that effortless vocal ease

All in all, American Teen  is ambitious in its scope, but superb in it’s delivery. Khalid takes the scatterbrained teenage psyche, and manages to channel its each and every cadence without losing that effortless vocal ease. If you’re looking for something new, fresh and dare I say ‘edgy’ enough to distil the various moods of your summer, then this is far from a bad choice.

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