Syd: Fin (2017) – Album Review

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A.k.a Sydney Bennett, 24 year old member of L.A.’s Odd Future hip-hop collective (other members include Earl Sweatshirt, Mike G, and most famously Frank Ocean), and lead singer for neo-soul group The Internet, whose 2015 album Ego Death’s success enabled her to strike out on her own here. Gal’s a shooting star of talent and I pray she doesn’t burn up too fast.

Those brought up on Whitney Houston/Mariah Carey/Celine Dion-type histrionics might struggle at first with Syd, whose down-to-earth mannerisms and limited vocal range don’t beg you to bust a lung singing along. Anyone who’s attuned to modern R&B and its subtler characteristics will find it easier though, and anyone who isn’t then keep on listening, because she’s worth it.

The easiest way into Fin is on the lesbian sex jams (her sexual identity is not stated but evident), of which there are several. Syd’s eroticism comes on slow, but it keeps on growing because of what she holds back in her vocal approach, never quite putting out. Delayed gratification is the name of the game, her restraint giving the longest tracks ‘Smile More’ and ‘Body’ the slowly building intensity of foreplay. Then the tension is unleashed in short bursts like ‘Drown in It’, a 1-minute cunnilingus odyssey that would surely have Weezy’s lick of approval, and ‘Dollar Bills’, where she attends a strip club with her equally libidinous mate Steve Lacy, their male and female gazes intertwining.

Less interesting are the posse cuts, not witty enough by half and where Syd trots out such hoary clichés as ‘all of my niggas are do or die’ and ‘if I go to hell hope my bitches get to visit’. True, these sound almost radically new when being mouthed off by a female voice. Almost.

Overall though I’m tickled by Syd’s humble approach. She knows that the gangsta schtick is nonsense and merely an excuse to lay down some trap beats to get you moving, and her modest sense of funk will get you moving every time. In fact, well aware of her limited thematic intentions, she told NPR in a press release:

This album is not that deep… For me, this is like an in-between thing – maybe get a song on the radio, maybe make some money, have some new shit to perform.

Compared to the overambitious reach of her homeboy Frank Ocean’s Blonde, the way Syd aims lowbrow and hits every time on Fin seems to me the greater achievement. She may well shoot for a ‘great’ album next time, either with The Internet or on her own, and I hope she has the stuff to pull it off.

In the meantime this slinky, quietly soulful album will do just fine.

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