“This album is not that deep.” That’s how Sydney Bennett described Fin, her first-ever solo album, when she was talking to The FADER not too long ago. She went on: “For me, this is like an in-between thing — maybe get a song on the radio, maybe make some money, have some new shit to perform.” So Fin, if we are understanding Syd correctly, is both a side project and, to some extent, a sellout move. Syd is a member of the Internet, the squelchy and hazy neo-soul group, and she sees that as her true calling. Fair enough: The Internet’s dazed fantasias are unique within today’s musical landscape, and there’s a real push-pull chemistry at work between Syd and her bandmates. Fin, by contrast, is something resembling a conventional R&B album, a spacious and stuttering post-Aaliyah synthscape. But something happens when Syd enters that space. All of a sudden, she becomes a star.
Syd is not a demonstrative singer. She never belts or swoops or reaches for glory-notes. Instead, she a sort of honeyed murmur, and she never much tries to push past that. She’s a striking presence, of course, and she has been since before the Internet. When she was DJing for Odd Future six years ago, she barely moved, just smiling sideways at all the boys ripping across the stage around her and shaking her head at them. Without outwardly doing much, she radiated more charisma than just about anyone else who was on that stage with her. And where her voice has always blurred into the miasma of the Internet, she herself has never faded from the front. She’s too striking, too quietly self-possessed. Fin, with its icy textures and sputtering sparseness, foregrounds both Syd’s voice and her persona. And from where I’m sitting, it’s more effective than anything she’s done with her group.
Consider the single “All About Me,” in which Syd rides the fuck out of an airy, weightless synth and a jittery trap-music cymbal pattern. Over a beat like that, Syd’s singing almost turns into rapping, her playful singsong delivery finding a mantra-like cadence. She sings about coming out of nothing and finding a place for herself in the world and keeping her friends with her, and it’s inspiring, the way these stories are supposed to be: “People drowning all around me / So I keep my squad around me.” She sings about being annoyed by fame on a track that could make her way more famous. And because she’s singing everything in a sleepy singsong, all her tough-talk sounds simply matter of fact. She’s not bragging. She’s just stating what is.
One of the big talking points around the new album is that it finds Syd working with people like “Niggas In Paris” producer Hit-Boy, Beyoncé collaborator Melo-X, and Kendrick Lamar collaborator Rakhi. She’s working, then, with people who have histories of making hits. But all those producers only get one track apiece on Fin. Syd is writing these songs herself, and she’s producing many of them, as well. She’s also staying with her team; “All About Me,” the most outwardly arresting track on the album, was produced by Steve Lacy, Syd’s bandmate in the Internet. And she’s still using some of the woozy guitars and blissed-out synth-patches as she does in the Internet; she’s just being more icily restrained with how she deploys them. Her tracks still gasp and shiver, but they do it in controlled, deliberate ways. People are going to hear this album as an underground figurehead reaching out into the pop world, and it is that, at least to some extent. But she’s doing it on her own terms, making sure she plays to her strengths, never letting it get corny.
On Fin, Syd is singing about self-determination, and she’s also singing about sex. There are a lot of songs about sex on the album. And considering the state of America right now, the songs about sex are as brave and proud and self-reliant as the “here I am, fuck you” songs. The next four years promise a rough time for anyone who is black or gay or female, and Syd is all three. But there’s no anxiety in Fin. Instead, it finds Syd stepping out on her own with a calm, cool intensity. She sounds like an absolute fucking badass, and the world needs absolute fucking badasses like her. So maybe the album is that deep.
Fin is out 2/3 on Coumbia.
Other notable albums out this week:
• Sampha’s searching, textured soul debut Process.
• The Menzingers’ raw, catchy, excellent pop-punker After The Party.
• Communions’ euphoric, melodic indie-pop full-length debut Blue.
• Moon Duo’s space-rock ripper Occult Architecture Vol. 1.
• Kvelertak power-pop side project Beachheads’ catchy-as-fuck self-titled debut.
• Iron Reagan’s blistering ’80s thrash-punk revival Crossover Ministry!
• Big Sean’s wordy commercial rap attack I Decided.
• MUNA’s glittering synthpop debut About U.
• Elbow’s cinematically gloomy Little Fictions.
• Surfer Blood’s tunefully fuzzed-up Snowdonia.
• Porcelain Raft’s blurry synthpopper Microclimate.