Whether she desired it or not, Syd has often been politicised. As the only woman and openly gay member of both Odd Future and its affiliated outfit, The Internet, her status had often been defined by the vacuous stereotypes of the communities she supposedly represented, often diffusing her skills as a talented vocalist and powerhouse producer. The Internet‘s gorgeous grammy nominated venture ‘Ego Death’ may have begun to propel Syd into the limelight, but it’s on this debut album that Syd confirms her status as a star in the making. Freed from the shackles that often accompany the tag of being a contributor, ‘Fin’ presents a glittery showcase of Syd‘s soaring musical talent.
Let’s get one thing out of the way, those expecting ‘Fin’ to continue The Internet‘s toe-tapping, genre-flipping output are likely to come away disappointed. ‘Fin’ is an inherently more traditional R&B outing; a selection of twelve intimate tracks about failed relationships, sex and womanhood characterised by a focus on sonic space and enveloped by Syd‘s trademark lush vocals.
Syd‘s vocals often present a direct antithesis to the heightened balladry of contemporary R&B. Her vocals are never soaring, often coming across as woefully nonchalant, whispering along glacial groove lines. In particular, stand-out track ‘Know’ reflects this relationship perfectly with Syd‘s love lust vocals oozing over a meticulously layered, trap-inspired beat. “Let’s keep it on the low”, she coos to her lover as the track builds and builds into a fervent haze. It’s an impassioned moment that’s characteristic of the album as a whole, with Syd wearing her lust proudly on her sleeve.
Sex is the overt theme of the album and that the tracks balance on a slippery tightrope between the erotic and the pornographic is a testament to Syd‘s lyrical prowess. The ever-lasting influence of Aaliyah in form may be clear, but Syd‘s sensual yet unapologetic approach to female pleasure is hers alone, and it feels fresh and vital in a world which often seeks to deny them. Take ‘Body’, for example, a sparse and velvety track that’s underscored by grimy, metallic undertones. Without the slightest raise of voice, Syd commands the stage as she boldly declares “I’m directing and I really wanna see you/Let your body take over you”. On the interlude, ‘Drown in It’, she presents a coquettish ode to cunnilingus that’s equally animalistic as it is romantic. It’s controlled, mature but ultimately playful. That she’s able to successfully craft a trunk-shaking anthem in the space of a mere minute without diluting its potency is a testament to her control as both a singer as a producer.
The most striking feature on the album is undoubtedly Syd‘s vocal fragility which, combined with her empowering lyrics, allow her to move away from the melodramatic trappings often associated with whispery female vocals. Instead, Syd operates in her own, self-constructed sphere. Her vulnerability is acutely present, but it lies on her own terms. She breaks when she wants to, not when we expect her to, and it’s this resonant sense of calculated, defiant intimacy that raises ‘Fin’ to eclectic new heights.
In an interview with Fader, Syd has spoken about her the album “is not that deep”, and declared her solo outing as “an in-between thing”, a venture that allows her to deepen her musical skills and broaden the appeal of her main project, The Internet. In a sense, she’s correct. Sexuality has often been a recurrent theme in the world of R&B and thematically, Syd doesn’t tread any new ground. But poetry doesn’t always have to be abstracted into indistinguishable forms, and ‘Fin’s power comes from its ability to craft a gorgeous selection of tracks that echo individuality and relatability. Whilst some may consider Syd‘s commercial intentions as selling-out, her sustained honesty within and outside the album is nonetheless refreshing and it’s hard to really criticise an album for the lack of originality when the execution is almost near perfect.
‘Fin’ is out now via Columbia