I’ve written a lot about soul and R&B music lately, especially the onslaught of great music from the year that was 2016. Many great artists like Solange got their due in 2017’s Grammy Awards show, but just as many have gone unrecognized. Swedish via LA singer-songwriter Snoh Aslegra is one of them.
Raised in Sweden, Aalegra brings little if any Swedish attributes to her music, at least not on her wonderful EP Don’t Explain. If you don’t count her vaguely exotic supermodel looks as a musical attribute, she could pass for any other American pop star. Like many Europeans, they seem to have a finer appreciation for classic soul from the heyday of labels like Atlantic, Chess and Warner Brother Records. Aslegra’s way of connecting to that past was of course to go to L.A. and make a record.
A big clue to the sound of this album lies in the cover art. It’s Roy Lichtenstein-ish style suggests a ’60s romantic adventure complete with cars, explosions, love and rabbits. More importantly, it draws on the rich legacy of soul music from that era with an almost cinematic dreaminess.
Most of these classic influences seem lost on mainstream R&B artists, or what passes for it today. With Snoh Aalegra, it’s pretty clear that she gets her inspiration as much from the past as from more contemporary artists like Amy Winehouse, Lauren Hill and Morcheeba.
Often tagged with the neo-soul label, Aalegra taps an era we usually associate with style and sophistication, but does so without relying on too many jazz cues. The laid back and almost retro production of Don’t Explain recalls the sonic textures of great hip hop samplers of the past like early Tribe call Quest. The arrangements sound like those scratchy old soul record samples complete with their infectious melodies.
Don’t Explain takes on much of that ambiance with just enough contemporary street cred to sound new and modern. As a production of No I.D. and it’s team of associated acts, Don’t Explain tends to showcase various hip-hop and R&B styles while managing to sound like a coherent piece of slick pop.
While not thematic or loaded with political messages, it’s the simple kind of feel good soul music that hits all the right buttons. As a 8 song EP at just under 25 minutes, it leaves the listener wanting more which hopefully will be coming soon.