Summer is nearly here! And what better way to get the warm vibes flowing than with some supremely soulful sounds? With this in mind, here are some of my picks for the best R&B rhythms and slices of soul this summer.
1. Solange – Cranes In The Sky
Solange’s 2016 hit is a cool, refreshing take on the R&B genre.
Blissfully minimalist, yet beautifully deep, Cranes In The Sky is pure poetry, the restless feeling of being away from a loved one echoed in the ways she tries to fill the empty space in her life (‘I try to drink it away’, ‘I tried to dance it away’).
The imagery of solitary birds swooping over calm waters, suppressed by heavy steel clouds, is evocative of the feeling of loneliness. But this is quickly soothed by the gentle, mellow tones of Solange’s vocals and the reassurance of the backing vocalists (‘Don’t you cry, baby!’). The minimalism of the strings and bass gives the sensation of spaciousness, further asserted by the expansive landscapes depicted in her music video.
This quiet exploration of Solange’s inner world evokes a sense of healing through music: her vocals take centre stage in a way that is powerful, but simultaneously delicate and subtle – allowing herself the space to be fragile.
The music video is a creative exploration of themes of struggle and empowerment; Solange’s solitary scenes are contrasted against group shots of herself with other black women, artistically shot, bodies draped over each other in a manner that echoes classical art.
There is a sense of intimacy in her group shots, the women touching each other’s skin in a way that suggests connection and familiarity. The use of colour in the clothing and backgrounds, and the way that Solange positions herself appears almost saintly, the slight movement of her hands and eyes bringing life to what would otherwise be a freeze-frame, while keeping the sense of being in a living painting.
Cranes In The Sky is a deceptively subtle exploration of inner feelings of loneliness, and the healing power of belonging in a community.
2. Erykah Badu – Didn’t Cha Know
Listening to Didn’t Cha Know feels like an aeroplane flight in clear blue skies.
The bass riff is fluid and melodic, complimented perfectly by the soaring melodic tune of the keyboard and Badu’s light, airy vocals, and grounded by earthy drum beats. Badu takes her cue from old school R&B and soul to create a track that is modern, minimalist and unquestionably unique.
There is a roaming air to the track which contributes to the sensation of travelling through life experiences; in her music video, Badu is a nomad roving through the desert, the ground dry and cracked beneath her boots.
Her dress is white against the scorched sienna earth, unquestionably futuristic which contrasts with the retro feel of the melody and the naturalistic way that she connects with the insects and reptiles in her environment.
Her train drags behind her in a manner that is almost bridal, as she searches for her lover in the wilderness, yet she is alone, curling up in her dress to go to sleep as the night falls.
When she finally arrives at the oasis, she and her lover reunite, their thirst for each other quenched in the still waters.
Badu is an artist who weaves together the threads of freedom and imprisonment, opulence, and hardship, to form an expansive desert tapestry. Didn’t Cha Know is a warm, sun-filled delight of a track, and the perfect accompaniment to the blistering summer rays.
3. Sade – Smooth Operator
This 1984 soul hit by Sade is a timelessly cool masterpiece, which has continued to feel fresh almost 30 years on.
While the track wasn’t as successful in the UK, Smooth Operator was a breakthrough track in the US, and it conjures up images of simultaneously slick and sleazy jazz bars, frequented by playboys and conmen out to deceive unwary women out of their money.
The saxophone is as suave and sophisticated as the swindler depicted in the video, adding a nostalgic atmosphere to the 80s classic. Smokey and sultry, Sade is a Smooth Operator herself, a talented bar singer bathed in red lighting as the hustlers bustle around her, taking advantage of her affections.
4. Daniel Caesar and H. E. R. – Best Part, A Visual
Opening with the crashing sounds of waves on the shore, Best Part, A Visual is an intimate inside glimpse of the bliss between lovers. Caesar’s smooth vocals are complimented by dreamy guitar and elegantly simple percussion, the female vocals of H. E. R. adding an ethereal echo to his earthy tones.
The melody is warm, sweet, and feels like bathing in sunlight. This is a euphoric, tender track that captures the essence of new love.
5. Dylan Sinclair – Home
Dylan Sinclair captures the essence of soul in Home, with melancholic vocals against the backing of swaying electric guitar sounds.
Despite the mournful lyrics, the melody has a soothing air; the video features his lover in bed in a sun-bathed field against clear blue skies as he walks from his car across the dusty soil to join her.
He pictures her as he drives away in his car, later sitting alone in that same field, as she takes his place in the car alone. He appears lost as he wanders the field, watching the sun set over the horizon.
Dylan’s vocals capture the essence of love on the rocks; sweeping skillfully through highs and lows as he narrates the story of separation and longing.