Music Reviews
Ella Mai

Ella Mai Ella Mai

(10 Summers Records) Rating - 6/10

Ever since the release of runaway mega-hit Boo'd Up, Ella Mai has been billed as the next great R&B pop artist. And there's some valid credence to that statement - Boo'd Up was a stellar introduction into the English singer-songwriter's career, a no-frills ballad with a classic nineties sound without resorting to shallow nostalgia. It proved that there's still some space for a tasteful, if slightly innocuous, earworm in between an army of here today, gone tomorrow trap-based hits.

With foolproof producer Mustard at the helm of her debut self-titled effort, Ella Mai is poised to replicate her early success tenfold. And they both sure deliver from a singles standpoint - Trip has that refreshing, piano-led hook that, while it intends to replicate the clever phonetics of Boo'd Up, expresses heartbreak with less ennui and more buoyancy. But the soulful Sauce also proves that the heart of the album lies within its deep cuts, where Mai showcases her quivering vocal acrobatics over a slinky keyboard line with unshowy simplicity.

There's really two albums at play throughout Ella Mai - one side unfolds in a reflective, traditional classic soul mold, and then there's the side that attempts to keep up with today's young audiences in mind. The finger snapping Cheap Shot feels out of step with its trap-based beats and spasmodic chorus, a moody afterthought where Mai attempts to channel Beyoncé's disaffected grit on Lemonade. Sometimes, she carefully considers blending both with a tasteful touch, like on Everything, an earnestly romantic conversation she has with mellow collaborator John Legend. At first, it's somewhat odd to hear Legend's piano strokes over a drum machine pattern, but it doesn't overshadow the song's tender groove.

Mai is a confident performer who can tackle her debut's metronomic tempos with much aplomb, but there's a lack of authorship throughout that leaves a sense of disjointedness. Which is more about the album's overall design, because if taken in individual pieces, there's more than a handful of skillfully-written songs that could fit into any modern pop playlist. It shows that the success of Boo'd Up wasn't a fluke - if anything, Mai is clearly here to stay.