R&B of the Aughts comes to 2017

Rina Sawayama, London musician, has released RINA, her first EP. It’s a short little thing if you’re not counting interludes, just six tracks. But it’s a whopper! It’s a fun EP of R&B that would have sounded at home (if a bit experimental) in the late 90s/early 00s. I can’t get enough of it.

I think one of the most compelling aspects of the EP is how modern and relatable the songs feel, despite the throwback sound. Early 00s R&B always felt out of reach, full of braggadocio or tragically collapsed romance. But the lyrics are classic 2017 Millennialism: “Ordinary Superstar” opens the EP with Rina singing about how she looks up to a girl on the screen whom she thought she’d never be friends with. The title and chorus hit on this conflict between every individual’s innate greatness yet how ordinary that can be. It’s almost a line out of The Incredibles: if we’re all superstars, then none of us are. It becomes ordinary. She’s just like you.

Sadly the EP lulls a bit for me in the middle: “Take Me as I Am” is fun but, for some reason I find it reminiscent of older music to a distracting degree. “10-20-40” has a less upbeat tone and an edgier beat with sharp synths, but it just doesn’t click with me. “Tunnel Vision” has a feeling that’s too close to the superior “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome,” which is tragic for me as a big fan of Shamir. But it all turns around once the first interlude hits. It’s practically like a palate cleanser, there to prepare the listener for the heavy shit the EP closes with.

“Alterlife” is a song about growing. It’s an aspirational song–not growing up, but improving and evolving. Live the alterlife you could seek out, even if it means breaking the armor you hide behind and embracing the ambiguity that coming out of your shell can mean. The song is structured interestingly, too: it starts with these harsh, synthy guitars and Rina mourns “you were the one.” The song goes on a journey, focused on change and growing confident. “Alterlife” rises to an anxious peak around the bridge, then the final chorus explodes out a into a triumphant roar on “the girl inside is healing.” The song is bookended with the same synthy guitars it opened with, but they sound more defiant and oppositional here. There’s a strength behind those final moments, even as the song fades out.

Finally, the closer “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome” is the highest peak the EP reaches. And it’s incredible. A couple of somber piano chords and faraway chatter lead into a verse about a girl apprehensive about going out. (An anxiety many of us know well.) Then it plows forward into a joyous-sounding chorus about how Rina is on her own, feels better online. A perfect example of my favorite shit: sad lyrics over chipper music. But the title is revelatory. Rina and the rest of us are trapped and we’ve fallen in love with our cyber captors. “In my 4×3, they can’t get to me”–she feels safe behind the screen. It’s a relatable feeling for sure, especially as a person writing an anonymous blog online….

Anyway! The EP has some stellar tracks that I’m absolutely hooked on. I can’t wait to see where R Sawayama goes from here. In the meanwhile, this one’s on repeat.