|Album Review: Claire Reneé – IF I|
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The new IF I EP from singer/songwriter/dancer Claire Reneé is a luxe nu-soul set that finds its way into the world, just as the R&B subgenre starts to crane its glance more towards the starker elements of trap-inspired music and further away from the spiritually-steeped grooves of its roots. Regardless of any differences that might arise between the L.A. soprano and her contemporaries, you can definitely place her and her work next to 21st century stars such as Lucky Daye and Ari Lennox and she will come across as incredibly comfortable.
With her newest collection of songs, the twenty-something-year-old artist brings listeners a snapshot of herself dealing with issues of recognition and validation while still showing us how to walk with meaning. On “Invisible”, Claire contours her breathy vocals all along the edges of a synthy-symphonic arrangement from project producer TEK.LUN as she confronts a selfish lover with his selfish ways. Swerving past sadness, the duo delivers a fun electro-soul single that packages smart musings about love and manipulation inside of a crazy catchy tune. “Wonderwoman” is a slower number where Reneé allows herself a therapeutic release from the pressures of being a strong, enduring (and long-suffering) black woman. While it may be exorcising for the singer and any other woman who can relate, the song has a sexy and sensuous energy to it that can be deeply felt in its slinky rhythms and Claire’s sweetly commanding voice. Admittedly, this amorous take of mine might be powered by several viewings of the song’s absorbing lyric video.
Mid-album banger “Read My Lips” is a cool strutting bump that finds our musical guide providing a head-nodding farewell to an overstepping ex that hasn’t quite accepted the fact that their relationship is strictly "friend-zone only". Album standout (and personal favorite) “Vortex” is a fuzzy-edged, cinematic stomp that draws you in from the moment that its trunk-rattling kick drum touches down and gives way to baroque informed chords and cloud-soaring strings. The first half of the track feels spiritual - like facing the sun with your eyes closed and your arms outstretched. A little past the half-way mark, however, the beat shifts its tone slightly and lets Claire get notably more defiant in her approach. Album closer “Thank You For Love” has a stutter-stepping, J-Dilla styled bounce to it and is arguably the song where Claire allows herself to open up the most. You can almost see the singer smiling across time and space as she sings and offers up some pretty dope emceeing.
Keeping it short and sweet, Claire Reneé expertly pulls off a musical hat-trick with the IF I EP. She uses what can only be described as remarkable songwriting skills to make consequential yet easy-to-digest songs that explore themes of love, self-identity, and acceptance. Speaking about her process, the young creative comments, “This project came together with no plan or specific focus in mind at all. Part of my process is taking a moment to step back and notice any patterns, themes, or topics that I seem to be landing on in my writing. Then I start to put songs together. The theme that jumped out in my writing for IF I, was exploring feelings of invisibility in different forms. In turn, I think words to uplift and motivate myself started to manifest to help me cope with my emotions.” Because such an existential theme ties together the songs of this five-track opus, it’s kind of surprising that the overall feel of the project is very warm and even playfully funky in some parts. Perhaps the young singer, songwriter, dancer, and melanated queen should add “spellbinder” to her impressive list of credentials.
You can listen to the IF I EP on all streaming platforms.