Jorja Smith at The Novo DTLA

Jorja Smith experiments only somewhat successfully in Lost & Found

It is hard to think of an artist in recent memory who has enjoyed a rise to indie stardom quite as meteoric as that of Jorja Smith.

In less than two years, the Walsall native has gone from uploading self-produced songs to Soundcloud whilst working as a Starbucks barista to collaborating with some of the music industry’s biggest names – think Drake, Stormzy and Kali Uchis. Far from going unnoticed by listeners and critics alike, the singer’s staggering ascension culminated last February with her coronation as the Critics’ Choice in the 2018 Brit Awards, and many wondered if Smith would fulfil the heightened expectations surrounding her much-awaited full-length debut.

Lost & Found, in this sense, serves as the perfect response to such qualms. The album constitutes a rarely-seen display of self-assuredness in the early efforts of a musician as young as Jorja Smith, who turned 21 last month. Although it moves away from the club-oriented sounds of last year’s single ‘On My Mind’, the singer’s recent work shows she is not afraid to step out of her comfort zone to experiment with elements from an eclectic mix of genres (trip-hop to gospel). Though they may feel perhaps more alien to her previous work, she has cemented a heterogeneous but nevertheless well-assembled sonic palette which enhances the appeal of what could otherwise be labelled as a somewhat formulaic album.

Despite her numerous accomplishments thus far, Jorja Smith remains an aspiring young talent whose sound is yet to be perfected

The opening track, which gives the record its name, is a delightful piece of mellow R&B that succeeds in giving transcendence to a theme as clichéd as young romance, in a way few have been able to do: if the often-alluded association with Amy Winehouse is evident anywhere on this album, it is here. ‘Teenage Fantasy’, the following track, gravitates around similar concerns, but much unlike ‘Lost and Found’, it is less captivating, ultimately aiming for a sort of anthemic feel it falls short of achieving. It is not by any means a poorly written song, but does pale in comparison with the rest of the tracklist, evidencing that despite her numerous accomplishments thus far, Jorja Smith remains an aspiring young talent whose sound is yet to be perfected.

The two following tracks, fan-favourite ‘Where Did I Go?’ and ‘On Your Own’ both exemplify what is perhaps the singer’s biggest strength; that is, to musically make the most out of austere instrumentation. Both tracks feature just a handful of piano chords, a relatively simple beat and a basic bassline, but the mix of these sounds proves surprisingly consistent throughout, achieving an unpretentious allure ‘Teenage Fantasy’ could not.

Her lyricism has switched from teenage heartbreak to social commentary – she discusses racial profiling and wealth inequality

In ‘Wandering Romance’, the singer departs from the uniformity of previous tracks by presenting a piece championed by a deep, synthesised bass which counterweights Smith’s powerful vocals, giving the song a moody yet vigorous quality. Though such a setting seems ideal in letting the singer’s vocal capabilities shine through, this formula does not present itself again in this record.

In ‘Blue Lights’, the track that first put Jorja Smith into the spotlight back in 2016, and the freestyle ‘Lifeboats’, lyrics switch from teenage heartbreaks to social commentary, where she discusses topics of perennial importance in the contemporary political debate such as racial profiling and wealth inequality. The singer has more than once cited Lauryn Hill as an influence, and in these two tracks, the parallels with the latter’s 1998 debut are glaringly obvious.

The album perhaps loses some momentum by relying excessively on minimalism

In the final three tracks, the acoustic ‘Goodbyes’, ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘Don’t Watch Me Cry’, the album perhaps loses some momentum by relying excessively on minimalism which this time feels overly uninspired, lacking the ambition and the defiance found earlier in the record. This is a shame because it forces the album to close on a mediocre note that has the potential to mask the brilliance of an otherwise outstanding record.

A daring achievement – one that manages to balance the delicate equilibrium between innovating and maintaining a certain artistic cohesiveness – Lost & Found is more than a robust work. It is a remarkably confident effort for a debutant (albeit with some margin for improvement) and hints at the advent of a singer bound for a household name in R&B.

 

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