Snoh Aalegra’s highly anticipated sophomore album “Ugh, those feels again” is a chasm of emotive soliloquy, in which the Swedish-Persian soul songstress shapes the thematic space her debut release “Feels” (2017) carved out – magnifying the subject-matter discussed on the latter, as a means for conceptually illuminating the emotional revelations we all experience pre-breakup verbatim. It’s innovative R&B that refrains from rejecting the status-quo, fortified with jazzy piano arrangements, heart-wrenching symphonic strings, and executive producer No I. D.’s distinctive touch. “Ugh…” provides a soundscape where Aalegra emerges stronger, increasingly vulnerable and with a refreshed vocal conviction that is audibly timeless.
It opens with Aalegra’s own sampled and modulated voice trilling beautifully as she intones a poetic memento encompassing the narrative of the record (even if we catch the sunrise, it’s only a moment passing us by). All this before “Here Now” characteristically skips like a vinyl, ensuing a bluesy percussive intro in which the soulstress drives forward the relatable sentiment, that no matter what we go through in life, there’s always a moment of clarity in which we stop and think that “somehow, [we’re] here now” – even if we don’t quite know or understand why. It serves as a brilliant opener to a dazzling record, and instead of abruptly ending, Aalegra lets the hi-hat play out for two bars, bolstering the perfect segue into the album’s familiar lead single, “I Want You Around”, a jazzy meditation complete with twinkling piano melodies that sonically elucidates the feeling of falling in love and wanting the object of your affections to be always around.
“Situationship – as a standout record on “Ugh…” is a feel-good, indie-esque gem of a song that moves to detail the complicated, nuanced nature of nurturing a casual, yet emotionally intimate relationship. The leading harmonic placement for the track is hinged on an otherworldly piano sample, as Aalegra’s gorgeous falsetto renders poetic soliloquies across the chorus and the verses. (The moment I met you, I knew I’d never let you down/and so many times you and I made love in my mind/don’t want to regret you, I can’t seem to forget you now).
On the following records, “Whoa” and “Find Someone Like You” Aalegra further substantiates the notion that the predominant glistening novelty of “Ugh…” is grounded in the endearing and dynamic tonalities with which she commands her voice on each track; across the record her vocal is raw, eloquent and simply irresistible with the album’s other sparkling novelty – displayed on tracks such as “Toronto”, “Love Like That” and “Be Careful”- being Aalegra’s endearing affinity for experimentations with various R&B styles, each track exhibiting diverse and dynamic musicality. Impressively, every chapter on this album has its own charming instant classic value. In this way, if Aalegra’s debut “Feels” didn’t have you hooked, “Ugh…” acts as its successor – showcasing Aalegra’s polished sonic virtuosity.
To the tune of a trembling mellotron, on “Charleville 9200 Pt II” – Aalegra questions if the movie-like love she experienced on her previous album “Feels” – with the song “Charleville 9200” – was all a lie. Featuring the enigmatic sounds of James Fauntleroy, on “Pt II…” Aalegra details a heartbreak, experimenting with wordplay as she laments on the chorus – to the tune of an acoustic guitar accompaniment -“why you take me up this high?/just to put a hole in my parachute /so I would fall for you/ why you let us get this low?/When you know I’d give up my life for you/ride and I’ll die for you”. Overarchingly, “Pt. II” sonically captures that bittersweet feeling of becoming attached to places we’ve loved people in, and then not being able to go back to these sentimental places once the love had deteriorated without feeling a despairing nostalgia.
Then, on “You” the album’s gorgeous sophomore single, Aalegra expounds upon the unwavering dedication she felt towards the object of her affections at an earlier point in time. Alongside an infectious, cyclical guitar melody provided by Joel Compass, the seasoned songstress showcases the buttery, warm low ranges of her vocal as she intones poetically “I keep it on the low until I know/that it’s you for sure, just to be safe/the people I have told/say we can’t love/I’ve said too much/to take it back”. Further creating an endearing harmonic dissonance, in the chorus Aalegra’s falsetto perfectly matches the added minor scale symphonic accompaniment as she croons “I just can’t live without you/that shit I speak about, think about, can’t do without/but I can’t live without you” – as she unravels a vulnerable memento on the emotions inherent of not wanting to, or feeling as if you can’t live without the one you love; it’s a smooth and soulful R&B ballad that is strikingly unforgettable.
After pouring her heart out on “You” – Aalegra frames a change in perspective for the three culminative tracks on the record. In doing so, characteristically adopting dainty mellotron melodies for an interlude entitled “Njoy” as she coolly asserts “It’s the last time I’ll speak on it/ ’cause you ain’t that important/it’s the last time I’ll sing about you”. Fittingly then, on the following track “Nothing to Me” Aalegra opens up a self-healing dialogue with herself, adopting call and repeat lyricism to illuminate her repatriation from un-reciprocated love, in the half-sung, half-rapped refrain. (Why you always say you ready for me? (that ain’t it)/ when you know you ain’t ready for me (that ain’t it) / we ain’t friends if we fuckin’ homie (That ain’t it)/ come around and don’t do nothing for me (That ain’t it). With elegant musical accompaniment provided by Aalegra’s prolific frequent collaborators Maneesh and No I.D.
Aalegra continues to manifest empowering self-awareness on “Ugh…”’s penultimate offering, the uplifting “I Didn’t Mean to Fall in Love”. Harnessing her idiosyncratic husky R&B vocals as she belts the sentiment “I didn’t mean to baby/ I didn’t mean to fall in love”. Encompassing the record, she relinquishes herself of all blame for being vulnerable in opening up and loving the person that ultimately lost out, in feigning to commit to a powerful woman who was prepared at a time to “ride or die”. With decorative instrumentation, the track feels audibly old-school, complete with gospel-inspired supporting vocals and organ melodies perfectly accenting its sparse percussive elements.
“Ugh…” ends with Aalegra regaining her peace of mind, through accepting that things will never go back to how they used to be on “Peace” – an utterly magnificent hip-hop-leaning symphonic R&B track, with an ever-evolving harmonic placement contingent on recurrent record-scratching. “Peace” provides enchanting resolve to an awe-inspiring and affecting record, as the talented songstress concludes an introspective and illuminating journey. Over the course of the record, Aalegra moves to gain reassuring objectivity over a breadth of deep-rooted emotional matters inherent of the modern relationship – she goes from falling head-over-heels in love, to experiencing rejection, having to work through mixed-feelings, working through her partner’s commitment issues and ultimately re-defining her self-worth in letting her lover go. Overarchingly, Aalegra’s R&B plays by traditional rules; however, it’s so meticulously constructed that it transcendentally possesses a novel charm so bewitching, it ultimately renders the record amongst the best R&B releases of 2019 to date.