The smoky-voiced R&B multi-instrumentalist charts the ups and downs of a relationship with the help of guests like Jay Electronica and Floating Points.
The Leeds-based singer Rosie Lowe debuted in 2013 with “Right Thing,” a brooding R&B-soul hybrid that made the aftereffects of a breakup sound like being submerged in a sensory deprivation tank. Her atmospheric 2016 LP Control explored the emotional give-and-take of modern dating, and despite being cloistered by a few too many glazed, anonymous synths, there were quietly compelling songs (see: the body-image treatise “Woman”) to bear out Lowe’s songwriting finesse. For follow-up YU, Lowe improves on her formula by expanding her circle. Calling on a diverse group of collaborators ranging from Jay Electronica to Floating Points, she assembles a warm-blooded pop/soul/funk hybrid that charts the ups and downs of a relationship.
Lowe’s lyrics can sometimes scan as overly simplistic, as on the icily aimless “Valium,” but her songwriting blooms when she leans on more fantastical metaphors. Early highlight “Pharoah” struts on a swaggering bass line and a hypnotic organ sample from Pharoah Sanders’ 1977 “Memories of Edith Johnson,” while Lowe conjures Egyptian gods and goddesses: “My hair is Nu/My face is Ra/My eyes are Hathor/But worlds apart.” On the simmering “Mango,” she plays Eve seducing Adam, ratcheting up the double entendres: “I adore the selection you bring/It’s your platter that makes my tastebuds ring/…And I’ve been looking for some fruit for my tree.”
Her gravelly, soaring voice is supported by Lowe’s longtime producer Dave Okumu, who adds dynamic, rubbery synths that feel like HD upgrades of his work on Control. On the disorienting highlight “ITILY,” a sweeping synth line underpins Lowe's moony thoughts of an affair: “Don’t wanna come on strong but he has gone out/And he won’t be home for another three hours.” The warped effect mimics the head rush of forbidden romance, with the repetition of the one-line chorus (“I think I love you”) drilling in its obsessive side-effects.
YU’s guest features occasionally come across as half-baked. The pop-minded “The Way,” driven by a jaunty bass guitar, is a bright spot until Jay Electronica settles into a long-winded, tacked-on guest verse addled by clumsy references to UK landmarks as well as the groan-inducing couplet, “Show me the way like Glinda Good Witch/My heart’s so tired like BFGoodrich.” Elsewhere, she casts a who’s-who of singers to fill in as a Greek chorus to better effect: Jamies Woon and Lidell, Kwabs, and Jordan Rakei make up the head-spinning, processed backing vocals on “Birdsong,” which also features a skidding, Jai Paul-ian electric guitar.
YU comes to us via Paul Epworth’s Wolf Tone Records, which may account for its vague sense of boutique-y, almost-too-tasteful A&R-ing (Epworth has steered Adele and Florence and the Machine’s music to similarly refined ends). Yet Lowe’s sophomore album retains a distinct point of view, with her folkloric sensibility and forward-thinking production shining through despite some smoothed-over platitudes. Lowe is only growing as an artist, and YU heralds a bright future.