An impressive slice of sophisticated Soul by Seinabo Sey. Her first material since her 2015 album Pretend, ‘I Owe You Nothing’ is noteworthy for its musical craftsmanship and invention, and its timely lyrics, which pose a Mvula-esque challenge to a secret oppressor whose private behaviour reminds us that a brute in 2018 is still a brute. A stand-out track in this week’s new releases.
I hear echoes of Janelle Monae’s ‘Say You’ll Go’ from the end of her seminal ‘Archandroid’ record back in 2010. But this is distinct piece of art pop in it’s own right – and lyrically while Monae’s words are more abstract, Sey’s new single is rooted in and engages with an oppressive reality, laying bare the double standards of a supposedly enlightened society.
The heavily filtered opening is hypnotic and metrically ambiguous. It introduces our ears to a modal C# minor chord progression sung by hauntingly processed vocals. The result is something akin to a choir of lovelorn robots.
It is this beautiful looped sequence (C# minor – D major – B minor) that forms the harmonic linchpin of the song. It’s a very dark and very unusual chord sequence for the genre, and appropriately sombre given the lyrical content. And it features the most stirringly innovative use of the flattened supertonic chord I’ve heard in a long time.
I get the impression that Seinabo is someone who lives wholeheartedly. It takes a certain amount of zeal and integrity to form a rhyming couplet of “These aren’t tears, this is the ocean, these aren’t fears, this is devotion”. No doubt a challenging soundbite for many lukewarm millennials, and one that transcends the primary subject matter into broader existential questions, such as “When you play Candy Crush – are you really living?”
Magnus Lidehäll, a close friend of Sey, produced this stunning vignette, and has all bases covered, from gospel choir to a warm synth gracing the end of the song, ensuring a beautifully nuanced and varied texture throughout.