Nottingham-born Londoner Nao cut her teeth as a backing singer before deciding to branch out and go it alone at the tail end of 2014. A couple of EPs, a fair chunk of critical acclaim and plenty of buzz later we arrive at For All We Know - her debut album.
Out of the gate it’s easy to understand why she was plucked from the background and earmarked for greatness. “Get to Know Ya” is a pure rush; an unadulterated hit of Prince-esque pure 80s funky soul torn apart and rebuilt for 2016. “Inhale Exhale” is sultry and brooding, its grimy beats giving way at just the right moments to a melody allowed space to breathe. “Trophy” is a standout example of Nao’s self-coined “wonky funk”; layered vocals tumbling in from all angles, crunching metallic guitars crashing up against tightly plucked funk licks, and a super cameo from A.K. Paul that cuts through like a hot knife.
Unfortunately, at 53 minutes and 18 tracks long, the record goes on too long for it to remain engaging. There’s not a great deal of variety here so, while a vertical slice at virtually any point of the album sounds impressive, taken as a whole it becomes a bit of a slog. There’s a much tighter album here desperate to me set loose - are both “Inhale Exhale” and “Happy” really needed, given that the latter is a virtual carbon copy of the former? By the time some different sounds arrive - cracking R&B ballad “Blue Wine” and spiritual successor to All Saints’ 90s jamz “Feels Like (Perfume)” - fatigue has sadly set in.
There’s more than enough here to merit Nao a stint under the spotlight, but not quite enough yet to suggest it’ll be a lengthy one.
- Andy West