Jorja Smith sings as though she’s got decades of heartache like only a 20-year-old can.
Jorja Smith sings as though she’s got decades of heartache like only a 20-year-old can. That’s not a slight, because she sells the hell out of it. The melodrama, both in production and voice, is prestinely placed, almost mathematic in the way it jerks tears.
Though this is the U.K. crooner’s first album, she’s been knocking around for a few years, racking up millions of hits on Youtube with her soulful tunes. Lost & Found occasionally feels like more of a collection than a full album; it’s a compilation of music she’s been performing for years and contains previously released songs going back to when she was 16. But it barely matters.
Though there’s nothing as fun as her earlier smash “On My Mind;” instead, Smith wallows in tango grooves, downtempo ballads and depression-soaked soul. She filters her heartache through light touches of Blond melancholia, but Sampha’s angelically toxic world weighs even heavier on Lost & Found. They both transfigure trip-hop conventions for less sexy, more mournful results. The slow-mo tempos certainly lend Smith more gravity, creating the perfect environment for her voice to spring from syrupy to ferocious as everything around her seems to float in zero-G.
Lost & Found might be the best showcase for how crazy versatile Smith’s voice is. She goes from seductive whispers to righteous anger on a dime. On “Blue Lights,” which slinks through lo-fi 80s style synths with DJ Shadow drum production, Smith’s goes from blissful harmonies to half-rapped ferocity with her tales of police brutality. While the coffeeshop soul of “Goodbye” is a bit too predictable, it still shows off that she could dominate the acoustic setting as well. There’s no need for effects on those pipes.
If there’s any frustration, it comes from a lack of lyrical variety. We are all deeply aware that boys suck and Smith’s laundry list of crappy lovers is long to a distressing degree. It seems like the girl can’t get a break. But considering the party-ready “On My Mind,” her bubbling collaborations and thin slices of Lost & Found all pointing in more exciting directions, it would be fascinating to see her indulge other themes. Smith clearly has the poetic license and imagination to take on more globe-spanning issues. The aforementioned “Blue Lights” is a startling stark portrait of a community under attack. “Lifeboats (Freestyle)” shows off both Smith’s rapping skills and her compassion, directly addressing the legion of clueless or vile people rooting for Brexit.
But there’s a reason much of Lost & Found focuses on romantic drama: Smith’s damn good at it. Jamie Woon’s cozy cluttered soul pops up as an influence on showstopper “On Your Own.” But this is Smith’s beast, and the best bit of sheer sadness she’s made yet. The three note hook is improbably catchy and powerful, gracefully laced with a full chorus of harmonies to back up Smith’s visions of late nights alone, sinking into pity. Even that faded, Nujabes-esque piano can’t come and save her from the pain.
Though Drake will probably pull her back in for another song and she’s pretty much guaranteed to be on the next Disclosure album, this is Smith’s foray and hers only. She’s not good for a 20-year-old, she’s fantastic without any qualifiers.