The 24 year-old Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Syd (born Sydney Bennett) has just unleashed an impressive debut solo album, “Fin,” out now on Columbia Records. “Fin” is a smart collection of pulsating R&B, a quiet storm of electronic beats and imaginative arrangements. It’s chill, sexy and thought-provoking all at once, an impressive debut.
The openly gay Syd began her career as part of Odd Future, a hip-hop collective that has at various times included such luminaries as Tyler, the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, Frank Ocean, among many others. In 2011, Syd co-founded the neo-soul group the Internet, whose acclaimed 2015 album “Ego Death” was nominated for a Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album. Syd is still a part of the Internet (with whom she will be performing at the Fillmore in Silver Spring on Feb. 27), but with “Fin” she clearly stakes her claim as a solo artist worthy of attention.
“Fin” is hypnotic and low-key, Syd’s captivating voice adding a velvety softness to the generally spare electronic beats. She maintains an aura of coolness, keeping her emotions in check — nothing is overheated or overdone. There’s plenty of sonic space for the listener to appreciate the subtle complexities that Syd and her collaborators lace throughout the album. Syd co-wrote every track and produced much of the album along with several top-notch collaborators.
Album opener “Shake Em Off” establishes the equable mood with Syd delivering a lovely and understated vocal over a stuttery rhythm and a simple booming bass riff. “Know” is one of several tracks that seem influenced by ‘90s R&B artists like Toni Braxton and Aaliyah. Syd sings in her whispery upper register, reminiscent of Janet Jackson at times. “Nothin to Somethin” is stripped-down melodic hip-hop, her laid-back half-sung vocals keeping the mellow vibe intact.
The lead single “All About Me” finds Syd somewhere between a recitation and a rap over spare electro-beats and a quavery keyboard riff that sounds like it’s bubbling up from under water. “Smile More” is a smooth R&B ballad, another ‘90s throwback with an ultra chill vibe that’s intoxicating. “Got Her Own,” with its slow-burning groove and sultry multi-layered vocals, is another beguiling track on an album loaded with them.
On “Body,” Syd dips her toes back into ‘90s R&B with a sinuous melody sung in her beautiful falsetto over a sparse arrangement, mostly just a simple combination of electronic beats and a quavery synthesizer. Arguably the album’s high point is “Over,” a collaboration with up-and-coming R&B vocalist 6LACK that contemplates the end of a relationship from both points of view. 6LACK’s contribution involves a much harsher retribution than Syd’s — he ends the song with an open-ended question that presents an obstacle present in many relationships: “How we gon’ look for help when you don’t know yourself?” Interesting that he gets the last word and Syd’s character leaves his accusations unchallenged. Maybe she agrees.
The final track is “Insecurities,” in which Syd delivers what seems to be a more personal and revealing side to herself. She doesn’t shy away from her gayness, with lines like, “You know I love you girl/maybe more than I love myself/but in a perfect world/I would be with somebody else.” She wants to leave, but her insecurities prevent her from making the move. Every moment feels genuine. It’s intriguing that Syd would end such a self-assured album with a song that expresses doubt and apprehension. She’s not about false bravado or what one might expect from pop/R&B aiming for Top 40 radio. Syd isn’t afraid to be vulnerable, or one might say, real.
“Fin” is emotionally honest and musically alluring, a pleasurable listen that should earn Syd much praise and recognition. It’s a strong debut for a young artist who is on a trajectory that could eventually lead to true greatness.