Modern day R&B, more than ever, is a microcosm of modern day music as a whole: a mishmash montage of more styles and subgenres than any of us will admit that we can keep up with from day to day. Chris Brown’s Hip Hop Soul and EDM-infused hybrid club music; Janelle Monae’s apocalyptic, socio-political, message-heavy soundscapes; and Miguel’s classic yet new-age lovelorn longings. They’re all equally relevant parts of what we know to be R&B in the new millennium. So is it any surprise that one of the genres’ best albums of the year thus far comes from an L.A.-based alternative soul duo, one of whom is indirectly challenging the very notion of what relationships, eroticism and longing in R&B music can look and sound like? If so, try not to get too caught up in your astonishment; Ego Death has many more layers to it.
Not quite a traditional concept album, but far from a pile of random, unrelated tracks, Ego Death is an LP of sincerity, boldly naked candor and amorous wanting. There’s a certain wary, grating grisliness to the music that’s also, ironically, smooth. The dark, dirty funk interspersed with sticky, soulful instrumentation matches immaculately with Syd tha Kyd’s hazy, bleak vocalization. With the two-part “Just Sayin/I Tried,” Syd and the gang delve into the different stages of a breakup. In the first movement Syd slyly rips her former lover a new one by letting her know — in no uncertain terms — that it’s over by repeating “I don’t love you no more” and “you f*cked up.” Part two finds her almost conveying deep regret over a relationship's fallout. That same honesty reshapes itself into fierce longing on the deep, infectious, samba funk of the Vic Mensa-assisted “Go With It," the slow-burning crunchiness of “Get Away,” and the fat-bottomed, spaciness of “Girl.”