Album: Truth Is
Artist: Sabrina Claudio
Record Label(s): Atlantic Records and RedOne Records
Recommended Tracks: Track 4-Hurt People and Track 8-As Long As You’re Asleep
Sabrina Claudio is an up and coming R&B artist whose mix of polished and nocturnal pop production, driving rhythms, and high-pitched heartbroken balladry has garnered her a sizeable fanbase, critical intrigue, and a slew of producers and songwriters with some pop hits under their belts (i.e. Stint, Sir Nolan, Stephen Moccio) willing and eager to collaborate with her. Claudio first found slivers of spotlight through her song covers that she posted to Twitter, Soundcloud, and Youtube. The few of her covers I could find were clear stylistic antecedents to her current work, with less lush developed production and more apparent influences. Claudio’s love and affinity for music started in the world of dance, specifically the salsa and merengue that are near inescapable in the streets of her native Miami. Her musical sensibilities were furthered by her love of R&B, more specifically some of the powerhouses of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, such as Lauryn Hill, Usher, Boyz II Men, Alicia Keys, etc. Within her newer music she doesn’t travel too far down the path of genre fusion, however her love of rhythm across genres can be seen by her adherence to strong backbeats in contrast with the slower, moodier sounds she elects throughout most of her catalogue. On October 4th, Claudio released her debut album, Truth Is. She has three previously released mixtapes under her belt, Confidently Lost. About Time, and No Rain, No Flowers, which were all released in 2017 and 2018. Truth Is finds Claudio in her dreariest of states yet, with each song being a different rumination on the loss of love and the multi-faceted pain that she is experiencing during her process of coping with this loss. To call it a breakup album might be slightly reductive, as each song delves into a different situation, and while the theme of anguish is strongly embedded within the album, it isn’t omnipresent across the track list. Overall I’d give this latest venture a 3 out 5, as Claudio finds hypnotizing and compelling recesses within her sound, however her sound lacks the individual sonic identity that it needs to differentiate itself from the vast field of woozy, airy-voiced pop and R&B that have coloured the top of the charts as of late.
“Hurt People” is definitely the first standout track for me. It follows the star-driven Rumors with ZAYN, which doesn’t quite capitalize on its potential. The track opens with the surprising production choice of nearly naked, meandering guitar, with pluckiness and spaciousness reminiscent of some of the tracks on Rihanna’s ANTI. While not completely out of left field, the variance in pallette is much appreciated within the record, which does tend to stay much more within a specific mood than past Claudio projects. While this does create more articulated and conceptual record, it also leads to some sense of plodding through the same territory without a ton of innovation. “Hurt People” centers around two lovers who just can’t seem to get it right despite the fact that they are all each other have, due to the fact that they are “hurt people”. Again, this is not a frontier songwriting that hasn’t been explored in depth, however Claudio does paint a tragic yet beautiful picture of learning how to love despite past damage that impairs said ability. The layering of the vocals in the second half of the track act as a sort of calm explosion out of the sparse production, and truly color the painful experience of hurting the only person she loves.
In contrast, Track 8 “As Long As You’re Asleep” seems initially to be one of the brighter spots on the album. The song starts with a couple sunny piano chords, and Claudio flexing her control within the higher register of her voice, and then a strong computerized drumline kicks the song into gear. Initially, the song sounds like a poetic and dreamy ballad of adoration, like the kind of thing one would sing from the garden below their lover’s balcony (for example, the opening sounds a lot like “Japanese Denim” by Daniel Caesar). However, when the chorus hits the contrast between the sound of the song and the torment it describes comes to light. Essentially, Claudio now derives comfort in the early hours of the morning, as she knows that her ex-lover is asleep , because at least that way he’s not giving his new girl what he gave her, whether that be sexual or otherwise. The last two tracks (not including the bonus track) of the album mark later stages of Claudio’s grieving process, however this morsel of comfort can almost be marked as her lowest point in this process. The subversion of the dark lyrical content with the major chords and generally cheerful disposition of the song creates a really interesting track that captures Claudio’s potential as a songwriter.
I hope Claudio strays a little bit from the beaten path of R&B starlet-ism, as in her best moments she mixes skillful songwriting, eclectic influences, strong vocal control, and decisive and deliberate production decisions to make some genuinely interesting songs. However, her potential is obscured upon early listens to this project, as she blends in so easily to the rising faces post-Lorde pop scene. Truth Is doesn’t mark a misstep in her discography, as it is a genuinely enjoyable project, however it doesn’t command attention in the way that I think she’s capable of doing. If you like Sabrina Claudio I would recommend listening to Jorja Smith, Kali Uchis, or Ella Mai. This album is definitely worth a listen if you’re a fan of pop but want something with a moody spin, or generally want to keep up with potential faces of tomorrow’s pop scene.