Friday, February 10, 2017

Syd - Fin Review

If it wasn't obvious any time the phrase appears at the conclusion of an artsy Sundance film, fin is the French translation for end. It's also now the title of Syd's debut solo album. There's no denying it's quite the contradiction, and one that draws heavy weight towards the album's intended purpose. Syd Bennett, known more famously as Syd The Kid of Odd Future and The Internet fame, has taken to reaching a new plateau with her work, attempting a solo transformation that finds her maturing similarly to a handful of other Odd Future members, like Domo Genesis or Earl Sweatshirt. Whilst Genesis descended upon the West Coast Cloud Rap scene and I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside tampered with Hip-Hop experimentation, both expected avenues for the two emcees, Fin finds Syd obsessing over the late 90's/early 2000's era of Contemporary R&B. With her seductive vocals, sensual tones, and romanticized lyrics, this direction seemed like a no brainer. However, much like those two aforementioned artists and their respective LP's, Fin struggles to branch out, lying safe in the vision it foresaw. Limited diversity, sonically, lyrically, and vocally, hurts Syd's debut, forcing it to fester in tedium with occasional sparks of ingenuity.

The Los Angeles native even seemed to comply with that thought when pressed about the album's purpose, stating that "this is like an in-between thing — maybe get a song on the radio, maybe make some money, have some new shit to perform." Not the confident declaration you wish to hear from an up-and-coming artist, but one that's unquestionably more honest. Fin isn't just the product of a leader branching out on their own, as numerous members of The Internet, following their surprisingly acclaimed Ego Death, decided to work independently before returning as a collective once more. So, the irony of Fin's title isn't that the album's a debut, but more so an intermediate, crossroads record. Undoubtedly testing murky waters, Syd's pilgrimage to in-tune Pop and R&B on Fin presents the hypothesis of her own rise as a solo artist. In fact, it's aggressively analytical, as only one artist, 6LACK, appears here as a credited feature. Many more play second fiddle, including some notable names like Steve Lacy and Hitboy (handling the production on opener 'Shake Em Off'), but by and large, Fin is Syd's show. From start to finish, her personality, charm, and ticks welcome in new listeners, even if the sounds are already well-known and fleshed out.

This is Fin's biggest letdown, the tendency to regress towards a Contemporary R&B norm. Syd drew inspiration from artists like Usher and Brandy. While those comparisons are apparent, others, like Aaliyah and TLC are too. The latter in particular emerges on 'Know,' an early standout of Fin's. Here, the similarities are palpable in almost every aspect. Bennett, handling the production herself on this track and others, uses the signature, Southern-infused school of janky production, bouncing synths, hi-hats, and chopped background vocals against one another. Just as it excelled around the turn of the millennium, the style does here too, as Syd glides over 'Know' seamlessly, as if she belonged there all along. Unfortunately, that can't be said for the majority of songs that follow, with a couple key exclusions. Rudimentary R&B litters the bulk of Fin, as the slow pace and meandering aura never really lifts off the ground, and hasn't for decades. Really, the only thing that's tangibly hers are the occasional pitch-shifted vocals on songs like 'Nothin To Somethin,' 'Smile More,' and 'Dollar Bills.' And let's be honest, the cheap effect isn't a tactic you want to be associating with.

While those tracks, and a few more, abide by the standard practices years of R&B evolution set forth, there's a handful of outcasts that disrupt that nature with some modernized Alternative R&B laced with Trap. For our current era, Fin's lead singles, 'All About Me' and 'Body,' aren't that shocking as their basis has been honored by countless Electronic producers and their credited sultry singers, but pressed up against ode's to R&B's past, these standouts flourish even more so. The low-ends found in both songs sneer with vicious intent, as if the "sharks in the water" Syd mentions in 'All About Me' are circling her, pushed away only by her irrefutable confidence. With 'Body's' sexual rendezvous also in sights, I feel compelled to mention why Fin and Syd could be become powerful messages of female empowerment, even if the songs don't directly dissect that. Simply put, Syd, with her shaved head, mohawk, pale demeanor, conventional clothing, and sexual orientation are not what you'd typically align with today's female Pop stars. And yet here she is, oozing poise and assertiveness in the face of society's standards. If there's one gleaming positive to take from this album, it's the fact that it exists.

The Trap-influenced hits aren't just the tracks that'll entertain a younger audience though, they're also the best. In today's music culture, there's just no need for Contemporary R&B. Modern sub-genres have eclipsed the sensuality 90's R&B presented, conjoining with it an overarching enjoyment that was previously absent. Think FKA Twigs. Her influences vocally can be attributed to that era, but the music certainly is not. That's where Fin stumbles, festering for too long on dated instrumentation, failing to say anything meaningful in the process. More than anything, Syd's image and presence are doing much of the heavy lifting. If you didn't want to dissect Fin, saying that it's a singles album would suffice, as that's largely the case here. There is one exclusion though; the album's closer. 'Insecurities' balances on that tight rope of being era-less, bringing listeners closer to Ego Death in the process. The jazzy production breezes with a summery vibe, and even comes equip with a Funk-shift that was clearly inspired by Childish Gambino's "Awaken, My Love!" Overall, the track is a joy, and hopefully indicative of where Syd will go next, either by herself or with The Internet. Let's hope Fin's closer is only the beginning, and its bulk the past.


  1. I would love to hear your thoughts on Sampha's album Process.

    1. I've heard quite a bit about it but don't really know the man's music all that much. I may very well check it out though!

    2. It was my first introduction as well, but it is very much worth your time. Love your reviews!