Toronto-based soul seductress Amaal seeks to make a considerable mark on the music world with debut EP Black Dove: a lyrically honest exhibition of R’n’B, showcasing signs of a promising future.
Sometimes you’re drawn to music because of the album title alone. Other times it’s the artwork, or perhaps a musical affiliation of some kind – such as a cameo in a television show or movie. In all honesty, none of the above are what first drew me to Black Dove, the debut EP by Toronto-based solo artist Amaal (previously Amaal Nuux). I merely found myself curious about this little slice of R’n’B that seemed a far departure from the habitually heavy realms which I frequent; and a welcome change of scenery it is.
Black Dove is helped by context. To the casual listener, first impressions may imply that Black Dove risks becoming a forgetfully typical inclusion of every playlist in ten thousand trendy, cologne-drenched clothing stores, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But dig deeper, and you’ll find its reflective musicality seats Black Dove right at home among peers. Lyrics of love, longing, and leaving are all on the cards, providing relatable commentary on the personal life of the Somali singer. The record also draws on her upbringing, and the subsequent voyage to Canada as a refugee. It’s not going to win awards for being innovative in its ideas and instrumentation, or breaking musical boundaries, but is that a bad thing? Not at all: this is a record to be truly appreciated by those with an open ear and an open mind.
‘If I wait it out/ You’ll love me, right?’, the chorus of above track “Later” poses tentatively. Happily, my answer is yes. Black Dove is Amaal‘s first studio EP since coming to attention through scattered singles on social media back in 2012. You can hear the growth and maturity in her sound. By the end of the first listen, I was drawn in by Black Dove‘s charm and undeniable smoothness. On the second listen, the intricacies become all the more apparent. Synths breathe character and charm throughout each of the six tracks, presenting a clear sense of elegance even in poppier moments, as found on the choral groove of “So What”. “Coming & Going” throws in pinches of guitar flourish that punctuate the song’s chilled vibe.
It’s a change of pace that is scattered throughout Black Dove: slowly energised tempos one moment play off of almost comatose composition the next, offering concise morsels of well-polished and soulful songwriting. The music is of course only half of a successful duo here, with Amaal‘s sultry, demure vocals completing the sound. Her melodies are not brash or showy – you’ll find no elaborate vocal runs for the sake of embellishment. Rather, there’s a grace on display here that is incredibly endearing. My personal standout track is “Later”. There’s just something about the combination of that deep-rooted bass, midtempo percussion, and rhythmic parts that oozes style – it forces an involuntary nod of the head each time I revisit it.
On a slight tangent, it’s always enjoyable to see music videos provide visualisations to accompany the audio. Half of Black Dove‘s tracklist have been given this treatment, each one crafted as lovingly as the song it complements. It’s a testament to the wider care and affection Amaal and all involved have crammed into such a short outing. As you’ll notice from those included here, each one is stylised heavily to mirror the personality of the song it was created for. “Coming & Going” offers a silky, sophisticated journey of graceful choreography, popped with colour and tantalising outfits – all shot in a beautiful, romantically-inspiring location. This is stark in contrast to the decidedly more mundane setting of “Later”. A journey again in the physical sense, only this time we see Amaal share it with others in the common setting of a bus ride: it’s an easily-identifiable visualisation of just how everyday (and understandable) the relational confusion of her lyrical content is.
Such attention to detail is indicative of her ambition with Black Dove, as well as beyond. Where other artists may rely on the same visual and musical clichés, Amaal errs on the side of storytelling, weaving narratives to, for, and representative of the masses. This is a promising debut from an artist whose command of her talent continues to grow. Given opportunity, time, and resource, this will hopefully one day be the record Amaal looks back on fondly, as the catalyst of a greatly successful career that would be neither a surprise, nor undeserved.