NAO – Saturn
NAO assuredly ascends into the stratosphere with sophomore album Saturn, an open diary that leaves you both rooting for and absorbed in the afflictions of the angelic singer.
Saturn comes two years on from NAO’s debut For All We Know. On this 13-track offering, the now 30-year-old takes inspiration from her recent Saturn Return, (a personal astrological event that is believed to have transformative effects on one’s life), to navigate her way through an agonising break-up. This explains the greater abundance of heartache presented this time around, given way by a significant reduction in the characteristic radiance of her debut.
Opener Another Lifetime’s gravitational pull is strong from the beginning. An a capella harmony arrangement encapsulates the listener with at times desolate lyrics like 'How I wish perfect was enough for my own heart.' The album’s title track is a soulful, jazz-inspired Kwabs collaboration, built around a prominent rhythm section accompaniment. The highlight is the melisma of the final chorus, where the elasticity of NAO’s voice is explicitly exemplified.
If You Ever is characterised by tribal-inspired drum patterns and the earworm of the chorus’ addictive backing vocals. It's hopeful and inviting, juxtaposing what precedes, and provides one of the most spirited moments on the album. Love Supreme continues this. Here, all other components orbit around the track’s glittering, melodic bassline that underpins tropical lyrical references like ‘palm trees and breeze.’
The album’s highlight comes in the heartbreaking electric guitar ballad Orbit. Over rounded broken chords, NAO explores thoroughly the several galaxies within her voice. Each change in tone attaches to a new emotion, as arguably the album’s most poignant lyrics are delivered: ‘You remind me of a love who outgrew me too.’
The vividity of NAO’s lyrical expression leaves the listener deeply enthralled and invested in her stories. Thankfully, downtempo closing track A Life Like This provides some reassuring confirmation that everything has come together. You would hope so as, in terms of achieving success with an album, the stars have most certainly aligned for NAO.
Listen to: Another Lifetime, If You Ever, Orbit