Noname — Room 25 ANALYSIS & REVIEW
It’s therapeutic, it’s got strong technical skill, and it’s thematically powerful. It does enough right to be considered one of the year’s best albums. This is the kind of album that the positive side of the 2018 music world has seemed to be building towards and looking forward to, which is a popular musical style being fused with a surprising additional influence while reflecting on the state of our culture through very personal perspectives and tactics. That is a good reflection on what has been done very well in new music this year, and this work serves as a quintessential mark of what the year 2018 should ultimately be remembered by.
The timbral foundation was quite exquisite. One of the album’s biggest strengths was achieving grace and beauty through a wide variety of acoustic features, all while maintaining a very easy to listen to and pleasant atmosphere. The backing band was completely in sync, fully giving in to one singular sonic direction with great flow from track to track on the balance of background harmonic suppliers and more soloistic patterns. From the strong shifting spotlights such as the bass in “Blaxploitation”, string arrangements in “Window”, and guitar grooves in “With You” to the ever-present seamless funky beats, sharp vocal highlights, and careful instrumental layering, this was a beautiful blend of a smooth lounge feel and an open-air downtown feel, creating a truly warm and special experience.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect about the sound was that it was never made to be the focus, but only the setting in which the musical story was told. It ended up being the biggest pull into the music, but to have such talent and thought go into a layer that’s ultimately just there as a backdrop, and subsequently give room for everything else to emerge more prominently, was a job very well done. The well-roundedness attempted here was both commendable and significant.
While the instrumentation did end up holding the most captivation overall, it was just as impressive that the songwriting layers came through with a plethora of nuance and personality at the forefront. The most obvious facet of this here is that Noname is a true wordsmith — she not only can write about a powerful personal theme in a poetic way, but she can find great ways to deliver it metrically, having no fear in varying lyrical density and flowing very unexpectedly yet congenially through simple meters. Harmonic progressions were yet another delight of the work, ranging from being chill waves through the lounge using clean functional 7th chord patterns to being riveting and memorable forces with sharp pivot points in the repetition all resolving peacefully. For an album in modern times to have gorgeous sound along with purposeful motion and exciting ear candy is quite a gem.
I’ve saved discussing the negatives that I found until now, mostly because I wanted to really champion this work’s success and show that this is an important listen for the year. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though — it misses greatness by a couple of points for me. Perhaps the biggest overall negative was simply that Noname wasn’t on the mic more, and melody indeed took a lot of unneeded breaks. Add in the unnecessary guest features — especially in the song “Ace”, where the dullest melodic motive was introduced — and you see the space that the stronger talent could have occupied. That as a whole brought everything down to earth a little.
More specifically, I thought the choruses could have been shaped with a little more range and harmonic pull, while I thought harmonies needed more expansion within the form rather than sticking to the same repetition throughout. Lastly, as smooth and gorgeous as it was, the timbre did become just a bit stale in the second half, as it most always stuck to the same quiet dynamic level and basic instrumental involvement. That’s being very nitpicky, and these are the only aspects I thought could really improve.
Again, this is a must listen for 2018 albums. As it turns out, that may not be saying much among the entire history of music, but it’s worth it to anyone interested in new music today. With regards to all the happenings within the current state of the music world, this album deserves much more attention. With all of the egotistical crap, media babies, and idol worship going on today, here’s someone literally going by the name “Noname” with a selfless, soft-spoken, talent-driven, refreshing work of art. It’s not perfect, but it’s one of the most impressive debuts I’ve ever heard from a living musician, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.