Nao sings retro R&B for the future | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Nao sings retro R&B for the future

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Nao is a British singer whose music nestles in the space between neosoul and the new generation of alternative arty R&B. Her light, dextrous vocals have some of the texture of Billie Holiday, while electronic soundscapes on tracks such as "Another Lifetime" from 2018's Saturn (RCA) suggest a mellower FKA Twigs. At times, Nao's contradictory impulses leave her mired neither here nor there; ""Love Supreme” weds a Coltrane title to a default midtempo beat and banal lyrics about "palm trees and breeze." But in her best moments, such as "Drive and Disconnect,” she fuses her nostalgia and experimentation into a seamless, fizzing groove. The song starts with an extensive gentle funk sway, which starts to dissolve into a jazz-fusion piano motif in which two melody lines layer over each other and create lovely off-kilter voicings. "Curiosity" is a more typical Nao effort; a throbbing slow jam, in sensual the old style with lyrics to match ("Fingertips to trace my lips / Tension till the moment gives"), with echoing electronic production and multitracked vocals that slide into the future. Though Nao sings "I'm here to fulfill your curiosity," her music is less about novelty than about extending a tradition, by showing that the R&B of tomorrow and yesterday can get it on together.   v

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