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REVIEW: Charlotte Day Wilson - ALPHA

Updated: Feb 1, 2022

Favorite Track: "Take Care of You (feat. Syd)" Least Favorite Track: "Wish It Was Easy"

Canada: the land of maple syrup, overly kind and sympathetic people, and interestly enough, absolutely incredible artists. From music legends, such as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Leonard Cohen, to more modern artists, such as Drake, The Weeknd, and Justin Bieber, Canada seems to have a knack for being the birthplace of artists who would ultimately refashion their respective genres into the music we love today. Singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Charlotte Day Wilson is a case-in-point example. Her enchanting voice has slyly worked its way into the contemporary R&B scene, gaining music industry attention by teaming up with the incredible soul/jazz quartet BADBADNOTGOOD, the outstanding musician and producer River Tiber, and the illustrious R&B vocalist Daniel Caesar. Every project she has contributed to has topped the charts, and her artistry extends beyond being a solid featured artist, with her two EP’s CDW and Stone Woman being glimpses into her fantastic composing, producing, and arranging. As expected, there were high hopes for a full length project, and in 2021, expectations were finally met. Wilson’s debut album ALPHA presents everything that made her such a sensation, as well as introducing a more confident and compelling Charlotte Day Wilson.

Wilson’s powerful voice is her most noteworthy trait as an artist, and on ALPHA, she moves on from that rich, dark timbre to a brighter, more lustrous tone. The mix of gospel, folk, and contemporary R&B is pulled off well with her illustrious voice being the thing that connects it all together. The opener “Strangers” is a vocal harmony-rich track, featuring some incredible backing vocals from Daniel Caesar. The first lyric “Girl, you’ve got to listen please” is kind of ironic, as if we weren’t already captivated by her silky, smooth vocals. The pre-chorus adds in some layered harmonies that sing “But since you went overseas/I’m bound to what it could be/I’m falling right at your feet/’Cause I need it, I need it.” “If I Could” is her first venture into gospel on the tracklist; a moment where listeners are amazed at the new Charlotte Day Wilson and all she has to offer. The chorus is sung with these powerful Kirk Franklin-esque harmonies that accentuate the lyrics in such a way that they become that much more potent and dramatic. She softly croons “If I could, If I could” before crescendoing into the chorus that belts “I’d bathe you/Wash you of the sing that plague you/Rid you of the burdens, and you’d be free once more;” phrases that require dynamics and strength.

Nevertheless, no song across ALPHA can quite move mountains like “Mountains.” Utilizing deep-throated vocal harmonies, church choir claps and stomps, and pouring rain ambience, this track is a programmatic masterpiece, and Charlotte Day Wilson’s deep and passionate voice makes it that much more majestic. Rain and wurlitzer piano is laid beneath a bed of quietly teased chorus lyrics, hymning “Up on the mountain/Searched through the valley/Can you hear me calling?/Won’t you come find me?” The beat drops, incorporating guitar, bass drum, stomps, claps, and bass, setting up Wilson for an incredible vocal performance that only transcends from there. The track snakes through various musical peaks and valleys before the final build up. “I’m in my feelings, I’m tired, I’m bleeding/I’m nothing, I’m choking without you” is sung relatively soft to reverbed guitar strumming. It begins to build dynamically from there, incorporating Daniel Caesar backup vocals and delayed trumpet tones, completely exploding into the final chorus after Wilson sings and holds “Don’t let it go” in a higher range than she normally sings. In fact, her higher range is a rare treat when looking at her entire discography, and ALPHA’s third to last track “Keep Moving” is full of it. As the most upbeat song on the album, it is a welcomed break from her consistent R&B slow jams. The chorus embodies this almost modern indie pop sound, with a simple snare and hi-hat groove, poppy basslines, and warm, spacey chordal guitar strumming. The chorus sings “Sometimes I need something that’s so far from me/But if that’s not meant to be, I gotta keep moving, keep moving,” relatively simple lyrics that make for one of the more mellow and enjoyable listens across ALPHA.

Instrumentally, it isn’t any more lucrative or fascinating than any other contemporary R&B album, but generally, every song on ALPHA has seriously well produced instrumentals. The best one is without a doubt “I Can Only Whisper (feat. BADBADNOTGOOD),” greatly due to that voluptuous and jazzy BADBADNOTGOOD group sound. Neo-soul drum beats, incredible bass playing, synths, and some classic R&B strummed guitar plague the track, creating a mellow, traditional soul joint that showcases the group’s stoned, soothing demeanor. After the final chorus, the instrumental goes up a half step and the guitar takes over the melodic material, loosely soloing around the melody and leading the band through some more modulation. “Take Care of You (feat. Syd)” features The Internet’s lead singer Syd, and hearing these two amazing musicians over a glorious soundscape makes for arguably the best listen on ALPHA. Arpeggiating guitar introduces the chorus lyrics “I’ll take care of you, if you want me to I’m/always ready for your love,” sung first in an emotional solo than in a classic Destiny’s Child harmonized way. A slide on the low E string of the bass guitar cues the methodically drunk bass drum and snare beat, where Charlotte Day Wilson and Syd deliver beautifully and clever horny verses to their lovers. The instrumental then takes a hard turn, reversing the harmonized chorus vocals and creating a spacey atmosphere where the synths increase in dynamic. The chorus is brought back in, paired with a final outro verse from Syd that is audibly compressed.

Wilson also dips her toe into a bit of folk music, which adds to the various styles that are found on ALPHA. The fourth track “Lovesick Utopia” gives off a modern day Bon Iver/Fleet Foxes tone, as she comforts her heartbroken lover over acoustic guitars and the occasional string orchestra flourish. There’s also a recurring melody that sounds like someone playing a slide guitar and whistling a melody at the same time. It is an interesting sound for Charlotte Day Wilson to sing over, as her voice is so accustomed to chordally dense, R&B love-making jams; but nevertheless, it is a welcomed one. The last track on ALPHA, entitled “Adam Complex,” is in the same sort of style, which was a strange production choice for Wilson. With no chorus, the song is a spiritual poem, with every line beautifully sung in the same rhythmic way, and supported by strong harmonies, acoustic guitar, simple percussion, and a low woodwind/strings ensemble. It stands out lyrically, and affirms that this song was better left to be the album's closer, and a perfect way to end her debut.

From the production, to the lyrics, to her voice, Charlotte Day Wilson struck gold with her debut project ALPHA. She covers a wide variety of styles that she is well-versed in, and as a result, it makes it more attainable to a broader audience. Some may argue that it makes ALPHA unfocused; however, her beautiful voice effortlessly blends the various soundscapes into a cohesive project. It’s the kind of voice that soothes even the most stressed out individual. The kind of voice that digs up emotions in your mind you didn’t even know you had. The kind of voice we pray will continue to bring us sensual, relaxed albums like ALPHA to simply revitalize our mood.

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