It’s not easy finding your creative voice in a crowded, often superficial, music world yet Toronto artist a l l i e has been steadily cultivating hers, taking it into directions that go against the current Toronto wave. Nightshade is a refreshing neo-soul/R&B influenced album that is not riding the OVO sound, rather a l l i e offers something fresh, particularly to Canada’s music scene.
At times akin to a less realized musical sister of Amel Larrieux and Erykah Badu, a l l i e’ s success on Nightshade is creating a sensual, chill vibe that allows her voice to be the warm center that carries it from beginning to end. Lyrically, her exploration of self, sexuality, sensuality and personal freedom is exciting especially on tracks “Let Her” and “The Reminder.”
However, unimaginative lyrics “I’m alone but I’m not lonely” (Broken Telephone), or bohemian/neo-soul clichés “Come over baby/braid my hair” (No Forever) and “Energies align” feel a tad like genre/image branding moments rather than intimate and revelatory. And while Nightshade’s chill vibe is initially its strength, it eventually becomes its weakness, with one track bleeding into another with little tempo/mode distinction.
Midway through the album, its opener and the sultry Charlotte Day Wilson duet, Take Me There, are its only real ear catching moments. Bad Habits, the a l l i e/Birthday Boy production, is a nice tempo switch up. And the Reminder’s dark lyrical ambiguity intrigues: “Resurrection made me stronger/couldn’t stay buried any longer.” Is it a track about a destructive lover she’s finally risen above? Or the assertion of a young woman in an often brutal music industry who has come to realize that she no longer needs its approval? (Or am I thinking of the Weeknd’s track by a similar title? Either way both are great!).
After my third listen, I realized that the album is at its very best with the earphones in, when the sounds are close and immediate, allowing its vocal and production subtleties to glow. Tracks such as “All the Love” and “Move like a Mystic” came alive, making me pleased that I gave it a revisit.
Must hear track: The Reminder