BLIND TASTE TEST: Rosie Lowe – Yu

Hi Sam,

‘Birdsong’ was the first I heard of Rosie Lowe and it was one of those moments where you’re scrabbling for a phone, a tablet, a rewind button – anything to tell you what you’ve just heard on the radio because you have to know.

YU took me longer to get in to as a whole album, but I’m so glad I did. It became one of my favourites of 2019. The album starts so quietly you don’t notice but ‘Lifeline’ builds into a pure ASMR moment. From then on, one song eases into the next like a slinky suite. 

Can you label the style? I’ve seen it described as electro-soul but it sounds like something all of its own to me.

Her vocals are so effortless they’re almost whispered. And over the top of her funkily tight band it’s sexy as hell. The lyrics are cheesy on occasion but there’s sensual image after sensual image – it’s a feast.

Again, I may well have chosen an album poorly for a one time listen review. But here’s hoping you get enough out of it to want to come back again, and again.

After such a glowing recommendation from James, who I usually agree with on just about every album we chat about, my first instinct is to expect an electronic sounding record from the off. Especially after your description of Electro-Soul, but what I actually got from the record caught me completely off guard.

You said it opens quietly, but this lasts just a few seconds before ‘Lifeline’ builds and builds into an epic opening for an album. The scale is ridiculous and already the layers in this production are breathtaking. I’m still expecting it to either kick off into a dance record, or become a more ambient electronic sound as it goes through, though.

How wrong could I be? 

‘The Way’ starts and it’s FUNKY AS HELL. That’s the exact note I wrote when that song began and it’s a feeling that lasted way longer through Yu than I expected. The guitars on this are so infectious and inviting, and at this point I just hope the rest of the album keeps this tone and style. When Jay Electronica enters for a surprising verse, I’m even more confused at what this album actually is, now leaning into the jazz instrumentation a bit more. I’m enjoying it, though!

And here comes the third track, the one that James said was his entry point for Rosie Lowe and I can instantly see why. The layers of instruments and production on this song are flawless. I’m genuinely blown away as it seems to move and bend in unexpected directions every few seconds. I would have done exactly the same thing as James had I heard this song by itself, the impact is huge.  

It’s at this point that I realise the comparison I’ve been trying to make for last two songs: Nao. Her first album For All We Know was full of funk and soul and electronic pop records blended together in a cohesive package and that’s what I’m getting from these songs. ‘Pharoah’ continues this even down to Rosie’s vocal performance, in the way she sounds so distinctive, I can’t think of any vocalist who has the same tone and energy in their voice as she does on these songs.

The production across everything so far is so massive that I’m completely hooked. Even as the album calms down a little for ‘Valium’ and ‘Mango’, her vocals start to remind me of 90s RnB singers like Gabrielle, who would crossover between genres so easily. 

I picked out the guitars early on, but through ITLY I’m so enamoured with them alongside such bass-y sounds too. I love that this record is so obviously geared to electronic, but every instrument feels authentic. You can believe this album could be performed, with a hell of a lot of skill, nearly completely live. 

The guitar that emerges on ‘Little Bird’ is another left turn, as it brings acoustic into the mix. It gives this earthy quality right before the whole song grinds into a crunching, bass-y finale, three minutes in. The intricate production here might even be my favourite moment of the album so far. I’d say it takes until ‘Royalty’ for me to not fully enjoy one of the songs, which given that it sits at track nine in the list is pretty good going, if you ask me. It does build in a satisfying way, but I think it then took until ‘UEMM’ for me to get back on board completely.

The drum machine on ‘UEMM’ is outstanding. It’s like each song manages to capture a new element of the instrumentation. I realise at this point that the album is nearly over and I have barely even noticed the lyrics. After James’s comment around these not being the best, I never found them to be cheesy or awkward, but didn’t really have chance to properly delve into the lyrical content on a first listen. I was so obsessed with everything else about this album.

 

As we reach the final song, ‘Apologise’ I’m pretty much exhausted from getting so into this record. I love how as a final song it sounds like this takes things way back to the earliest RnB influences that Rosie Lowe is pulling from. It’s not stripped back, but the focus on piano here feels much earlier in style than the crunchy bass elsewhere.

I’ve had this Blind Taste Test from James about 8 months and as I sit here, checking where I can get a copy of Yu on Vinyl at the best price, I’m kicking myself for not listening the instant he sent it over. This is a tremendous record, I’m actually confused that James said it took him a few listens to get into it, as I was hooked from the start right through to the end. I am so grateful for you sharing this with me James, let me finish writing this and I can jump straight back in for a much needed second listen.

Words by James Spearing and Sam Atkins

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