Cosmic * Lenny Harold * R&B/Soul * September 21, 2018
I’m not afraid to say that I’m a fan of Lenny Harold. He’s that kind of artists that you can say has never really made a bad song, just some that aren’t as good as the others. His EP, Yesterday Morning, is still a staple in my musical rotation and one of those projects that I find myself going back to at least twice a month. No matter how much he switches things up in terms of production, he still maintains a core that is his own and makes him connect with his audience.
But I am also away that Harold has never had a full-length project before and that can really color how you see an artist. On an EP there really shouldn’t be any filler; if you can’t come up with five to seven good songs that showcase you at your best, you need to go back to the drawing board. I was really afraid that, given the longer runtime, the singer might not be able to keep us engaged. But fear of the unknown has never been able to stop me from diving into music–especially from artists I like–so there was nothing for it but to see what he had to offer.
1. Blow Your Mind – The first thing you notice when this song starts is the echo over the plunk of the production and the slight reverb on Harold’s vocals; it gives a kind of Hearts Of Space feeling and fits the title without going overboard. The production on this track is extremely well done as it has the simple, overt refrain that you hear at the beginning but the undertones switch up from time to time with the rhythm and bassline giving solid variations. There are also moments when new instruments and sound effects slide in and then out again to add color and dimension that makes it more than just a generic, slow beat. His voice is one of those that reminds you that a lot of upper-register tenors are utilizing their instruments wrong as he comes through with a lot of confidence and gravitas that exudes a kinds of sensitive sex. His performance matches the theme of the song well, as his rising falsetto coupled with the floating harmonies evokes the feeling of orgasm without being overly explicit about it, something that is appreciated from both a lyrical and emotional standpoint. Where I get lost a little is the over-a-minute interlude about two friends going to a club and looking for love that is attached to the end of the track instead of being its own. I understand its importance from an album storyline point of view, but it does make more casual listens and playlisting more difficult because it breaks the mood (it also reminds us that Lover ended up being dropped from this set). That aside, starting off with a babymaker was a risky move but it does pay off. A solid start.
2. Heat – The first, official single from this project, this is the track I had expected to lead off the project. Thanks to deceptively slow and tense intro, when the funky bass and synth kick in you get a real feel for the ride you are in for with the rest of the album. Harold’s voice is strong here and shows that he doesn’t need to constantly show off his beautiful falsetto to make a song interesting. Hell, he doesn’t even go into full adlibs until the latter part of the track, allowing the harmonies to fill any perceived gaps that could result in lower energy. The lyrics for this are well constructed in that they tell a good story about the open possibilities when you first meet someone without overtly stating what those possibilities could be, leaving the outcome open to interpretation. The slower build of the track does make it a little bit of a downturn after the emotional immediacy of the first track, but it’s not a deal-breaker or dull by any means. A standout track.
3. On The Ceiling – In terms of construction, this song is an interesting intersection between the first two tracks. In terms of production, the song has a similar escalation to Heat, with a deceptive intro section, but it joins to the overall beat more like in Blow Your Mind because it comes back as an under-melody. It also has an escalation that is similar to second track but with the variation in inserts of the first track. It combines to make something that has cohesion to the project so far without sounding too much like the other two songs. At this point, I am used to the vocal power that Harold brings to the table, so he more than comfortably entrenched in his performance style. Lyrically, this song is probably not as strong as some of the others, but it’s not so full of platitudes that you tune out and, I dare say, making good love is my superpower is a memorable line. This is a good track…even with the 90 seconds of interlude continuing the story of the first attached at the end.
4. Breakfast – In an odd way, the beginning production of this track reminded us of Coko’s You And Me but this section is definitely more island-influenced than that song. The layering of the track is an interesting one as what sounds like the initial melody because the under-melody after the first bridge, transitioning the feel of the track from something promises a seductive interlude to something that promises more permanence in the mind. It’s an interesting feeling as this is what the song is about; going from what could have been a one-night stand to something that could end up being a more permanent thing. The lyrics have that storytelling aspect of expressing a moment in time without being overly indulgent on the boring details that keep the song from building. The vocals are solid, especially the harmonies that make up what ends up being the main melody of the piece. His combination of more traditional, melodic singing and the sing-songy not-flow makes the song stand out without taking away from its overall feel. Our only issue is, in a couple of places on the chorus, the hitches in the backing vocal can sound like oddly-placed breathing on the wrong audio setup, but this isn’t a deal-breaker for the track. A solid song.
5. Poison – Again, another deceptive opening. This should feel old at this point but it really doesn’t as, every time it’s been employed, the effect has been different. This time, it puts us in mind of song that is going to be about dealing with the toxic side of a relationship because of the bedroom action–and, to a certain degree, it is–but it’s more about coming out the other side and realizing you deserve better. The seventies’ style electric guitar gives the song a great combination of danger, sensuousness, and blues so that all the threads of the theme work together. Harold comes in again with the sing-songy not-flow and adds some beautifully melodic adlibs to it, elevating what could have been a very run-of-the-mill track. I will also commend him for getting The IZM for the track. Not only is his verse on point with the meaning of the track, also matches Harold’s own vocal cadences, making for a second or two where you think the singer is dropping some bars. His flow is also a good fit for the track and ramps up the energy in a place where it could have easily fallen off. Again, there is a long interlude at the end of the track, but this song is a good listen.
6. More – The third single from the project and it’s not hard to see why. It is constructed differently than the other songs in the set thanks to the more traditional intro style and it has the vocal acrobatics on display in a beautiful way. Songs like this are an evolution of the acoustic piano ballad in that they are meant to show off the voice of the singer and Harold more than rises to the occasion. The production is more generic in terms of implementation, but it isn’t dull and has enough variation to not be dull, especially once the electric guitar break comes in. The lyrics are that happy medium between platitude and concrete imagery that makes a song relatable without it being overly generic and not memorable. It is a song that puts you in the mood for love from the jump and is very repeatable thanks to it overtly happy mood. A standout track.
7. Like This – The thump of this track grabs you from the moment this track starts playing. Its heavy bass and deep melody (along with the title) make you think that you’re in for a sexy babymaker, but Harold subverts your preconceptions again as this a song about an all-encompassing love where he is willing to satisfy all needs for his lady. It’s about the connection they share and how good they are to each other in all aspects, which is lovely to hear from a male singer. This really could have gone off the rails thanks to what seems like a disconnect between the beatwork and the subject matter, but Harold’s performance creates a bridge between the two. He is the kind of singer that drives a song’s direction instead of letting it drive him. The lyrics are good even if there aren’t any standout lines that make you focus in and the overall message works. At the end there is another almost two-minute interlude featuring Harold (instead of the two women) at its center. It’s becoming rather easy to tell which songs have the interlude at the end because of the length and alternating track pattern so I was prepared for it, but it still throws us off a little. This is a solid track notwithstanding that part.
8. Spoil You – The second single from the project, this song with the other two releases offers listeners just discovering the singer a nice breadth of style to know him by. This is another babymaker with that Hearts Of Space feel to its production. I’m really happy there is so much separation between this and the first track as that beat-style making a comeback doesn’t make the album feel one-note. The heaviness of the bassline ties well into the previous track as well, maintaining cohesion. The vocals on this track hit you right out the gate with seduction and confidence and the runs are a sweet icing an extra-rich cake. The runs on this well placed so that he never oversings and overwhelms the listener. The lyrics are good although they fall a little into platitudes at times. A solid song and easily repeatable song.
9. Taste & See – I was ready for the new jack at the opening synth line…although this song is more new jack’s eighties predecessor. Harold does the entire fronting vocal of this song in his falsetto with the overlapping harmonies for that kind of Chic-effect that works so well on a song like this. The adlibs are front and center on this one and add a lot of color to a song that would have been good without them but is so much better with their inclusion. What truly surprised us was just how high the singer could go as the soprano notes he hits are solid and not at all screechy. This is also the first fadeout on the album and it works well as its difficult to see how a hard stop could have been pulled off effectively. Of course, there is another interlude at the end of this track, but it’s much shorter and has the lovelorn lady from the first two interludes interacting with Harold for the first time. A standout track.
10. Carefree – The opening chords of the track come across as carefree as they kind of evoke a bit of a child-like sound without sounding immature. The lyrics are probably some of the more memorable on the album with lines like I’m covered in love/I know you want some and We hold these truths to be self evident/That no fucks will be given jumping out at us right away. This is probably the most low-key of Harold’s vocal performances and it matches the theme of the track, but it also shows some of the holes in the more simplistic production this time around. Without him or the beatwork escalating at any point, this track doesn’t really build at any point and, by the end of a casual listen, can simple fade into the background. The song isn’t bad by any means but it end up being pretty skippable upon future replays.
11. Conclusion: Into The Grey – The acoustic guitar and mild country tones of this track were unexpected by a nice surprise. These are the strongest lyrics on the album; a wonderfully constructed poem about the fear of jumping into a relationship with the knowledge you could be hurt while realizing that you will push that person away if you wall yourself off. It is so easily relatable and understood and, yet, does not tread the ground of being simplistic in its language. Harold’s vocals are somewhat low-key again, but there a gorgeous long notes that help fill the space and he traverses the scales expertly several times per line. The escalation on this track is more subtle than previous tracks, but it is there and is coupled with a kind of urging emotion that is led along as the singer and the guitar duet together. The interlude for this one is fine; the sound of a pull-back followed by Harold saying Wake up and last only a few seconds. A standout track.
12. *Cosmic* – It feels a little odd to have a song follow a track labeled conclusion but, I suspect, this is more of a bonus track than a continuation of the album proper. Starting off with an interlude containing some lovely words from Mama Harold spoken over a spacial production about how she felt about him and his interactions with the universe from his conception to now, this makes you tear up with joy. There is something so beautiful about the love and support of a mother…but this probably would have been better placed at the beginning of the album as its own track, especially considering that she says Well, you moment to share this boundless inspiration has finally come at the cut. After a little empty space, I’m A King officially starts and it has a lot of inspiration at its center with a dash of humblebrag. The track is about how confident Harold is in his place in this world and how we as a people can keep ourselves from being broken by injustices and negativity around us. The heaviness of the bass evokes an oddly tribal feeling as it pounds an almost marching rhythm over the pulsing melody which also had that Hearts Of Space feel in places. The lyrics are solid as well, speaking on real things that can be pointed to as detriments in the way we view ourselves and the affirmation that all things happen for a reason and that you are strong enough to survive it all because your ancestors did as well. This is a solid track despite not really fitting the rest of the set.
13. Gold (Bonus Track) – The only way to get this track is from Harold’s website and it is well worth the detour. The production is an interesting combination of mellifluous and sultry as the notes float from one to the next with an obvious but well-place skittering snare providing the rhythm. Harold sounds wonderful hear. This is the mid-step between the low-key style that he gave us on the final two official tracks of the set and the more adlib and run-heavy tracks and it works well with the beat. He rides the beatwork effortlessly and the harmonies are properly low-key as well. It’s the kind of song that washes over you and wraps you in warmth no matter what time of year you hear it. The lyrics are lovely and, even more than More, comes with feeling of conveying the worth of his lady to him even before you get to the chorus. A standout track.
If there is one thing that we took away from this album is that, given an increased runtime, Lenny Harold can more than deliver. Not only was this album, in many ways, a spiritual successor to Yesterday Morning it also shows an evolution of a man’s talent and vision.
While my pet peeve with extended intros attached to the end (or beginning) of songs kept me from completely losing myself in this, the totality of the project still stands tall. The story the interludes tell is an interesting one and, in some ways, no matter how you order the songs, that story works no matter how you hear them. This is an album that I could easily recommend to friends and lovers of real R&B without hesitation and should stand an example of what it means to truly be one with your own universe.