Since her breakout in 2016, Jorja Smith has been one of UK R&B’s biggest faces. Her unique vocal talents propelled her from a prospect to a powerhouse in rapid time, winning the Brit Critic’s Choice award at the start of this year. The only thing we were missing was a debut album. Now that we can see Smith living and breathing in her first full length release Lost & Found, and not just on one of her numerous A-list features or hit singles, we drift deeper into Smith’s art along with the joy, and pain, of its creation. I expected a more experimental record considering her crossover appeal, though one can’t complain with an honest and accomplished debut album. Especially one that focuses on what makes Smith such a special artist; her powerfully emotive voice.
The album’s starting point ‘Lost & Found’ is suitably smooth and melodic. Boom Bap percussion carries Smith’s blooming vocals, which tantalize rather than sate the desire for her to let loose with confidence. After all, it’s a song about innocence and uncertainty. ‘Teenage Fantasy’ swings naturally, Smith further emboldened by her experiences of school day romances when we were “blind, “young” and growing out of immaturity. Lo-Fi crackles set this nostalgic tone among an innocent and inquisitive piano melody. It’s a welcome surprise that ‘February 3rd’ has been one of the bigger hits from the project. The most angelic high notes are vulnerable, its not a heavy hitter but a beautifully restrained cut in its spacey production, littered with mysterious synths.
Her breakout single ‘Blue Lights’ is still a highlight on the album, but how could it not be? The lyrics and sirens circle you, yet the flows switch on emphasis. I’m glad that I still can’t escape its hold on radio playlists deep into 2018. ‘The One’ has the same elegance, at first proposing a James Bond-esque ballad. Although, once the chorus sits in its sultry percussion, Smith’s vocals do the most to capture moody desire. It’s a struggle between independence, and the reluctant conclusion that we need others out of lust and emotional support; It’s a mature and a characterful cut. ‘Wandering Romance’ and its electronic glitches, present a deep grudge where Smith is once again pulled in opposite directions of love and reason. The true Accomplishment to be found in this track is how her vocal purity is never compromised, despite the electronic voice of the composition. The only song that I see little merit in is ‘Lifeboats (freestyle).’ Smith’s lyrics are untidy on an acoustic instrumental of Loyle Carner/Tom Misch’s Damselfly, and while the track’s sentiment is of welcome purpose, I must concede that its execution missed the mark. Though I really wanted to like it, so perhaps you might.
Ultimately, Lost & Found’s greatest achievement lies in its focus and purity. In an album that documents Smith finding her musical and personal identity, we see her draw from many genres and stylistic influences, yet never once do I feel that her voice is lacking. Production is balanced and atmospheric, and lyrically Smith is playful and powerful in equal measure. Unfortunately, I also feel that the boundary has not been pushed as much as it could be on this record. There are lots of accomplished tracks but few that standout artistically. Though I must remember that I too suffer the sickness of the modern consumer. I got everything that I wanted, but I’m still not satisfied. Though, this voice has a vision and a depth that we seldom see. Maybe I’m within my right to expect more in the future.
Lost & Found is out now.By Joel Landschaft-Singe