Sydney Bennett — aka Syd — has been nothing if not consistent since she first came to prominence as a member of the hip-hop collective Odd Future, both as a vocalist and as the engineer behind their idiosyncratic sound. She continued to burnish her credentials as a lead vocalist of her own band, the alt-R&B outfit the Internet.
Since the band’s members amicably split apart to pursue their own projects, she has made quite a name for herself in her solo career, with her 2017 debut Fin drawing glowing comparisons to the likes of Aaliyah and TLC.
Throughout her latest album, Broken Hearts Club, (★★★★☆) Syd is characteristically relaxed and effortlessly cool, so much that it is hard to tell at first that the album came out of the ashes of a personally devastating breakup, which she tells us was the first time she ever experienced real heartbreak.
Suddenly the work she had done on an album full of love songs had to be scrapped, and she set to work on what became a complex meditation on what it means to fall in love and then fall apart. She has an uncanny talent for capturing a mood or a feeling and thoughtfully unfolding it, picking it apart, in the process allowing a listener in to feel it fully with her.
This is how she tells the album’s story, a breezy but narrative of a relationship from its happy beginnings to its end, related over the course of 13 tracks.
Syd opens strong with “Could You Break a Heart” (stylized CYBAH), a catchy, smooth funk-infused number. Starting out fully in love and lost in the good feelings of relationship, we get songs like the doe-eyed “Tie The Knot,” all about coming around to the idea of a long-term relationship.
“Fast Car” captures the excitement of a drive with a new lover with its thumping beat, and although its lyrics about parking and shifting are strangely on-the-nose for Syd, its wide-eyed sincerity just works in her hands.
Syd’s down-to-earth romanticism is somewhat removed from the playful abandon of her earlier solo releases, her vocal work goes a long way toward making her newfound sense of vulnerability so compelling. Her voice is light and svelte in a way that works great for the deeply introspective material.
Vocals this soft often run the risk of being overwhelmed, and it is to Syd’s credit as both a vocalist and producer that her voice remains the main event even surrounded by the lush production and instrumentals of Broken Hearts Club.
Syd is such a master at cultivating and curating a vibe that her hand is barely noticeable until the energy shifts midway through the album. As the mood takes a subtle but palpably dark turn with “No Way,” we begin to get the sense that things are fraying before the lyrics even begin to hint that something is amiss.
When the shoe finally seems to drop on the gentle, acoustic “Out Loud,” it is not because of a dramatic betrayal or explosive falling out, but rather a dawning realization of the one-sidedness of the relationship.
As devastating as some of the lyrics are, Syd maintains her composure until she hits an emotional low point in “Break My Heart Why Don’t You” (BMHWDY), a hypnotically unsettling track featuring tense rhythms and dissonant backing vocals that lend it an unsettling, funhouse-like atmosphere.
Syd is by all accounts an excellent collaborator, and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that some of the album’s best moments emerge from those collaborations. Lucky Daye’s contribution to the lead single is an obvious standout, but Kehlani’s rich, smooth vocals on “Out Loud” are another highlight, adding dimensionality to a sparse acoustic ballad. “Right Track” is given a similar boost by Smino’s lines.
With its tight production and Syd’s subtle mastery of moods, Broken Hearts Club is as carefully and thoughtfully constructed as any album that has come out so far this year.
As a record, it is not only Syd at her most intimate and vulnerable, but also at the top of her game as a musician and a songwriter. Five years since her last solo release, this one was very much worth the wait.
Broken Hearts Club is currently available to purchase and stream.
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