One of Summer Walker’s central contradictions is that such expressive, openly emotive art is built by someone who struggles so frequently with her own mental health. Sparking a discussion about social anxiety by detailing her own experiences, the singer’s decision to step back from large-scale touring – something she spoke about with Clash last year – was designed to open up a more accepting, positive space to explore her artistry.
The months since 2019 full length ‘Over It’ have found the Atlanta R&B queen proving good to her word. Duelling with 21 Savage on ‘Secret’, she’s completed a brand new EP, one that leans on her influences while looking to the future, a succinct yet diverse ensemble piece that offers fragmentary glimpses of the emotional apparatus that lingers just below skin level.
Opener ‘Let It Go’ hinges on those beatific guitar inflections, a song that sonically leans back to her early acoustic EP ‘CLEAR’. Dominated by that pristine vocal, it’s Summer on comfortable ground, and this sonic affection lends the song a calming atmosphere, like some form of R&B mindfulness.
‘SWV’ is a homage of sorts to the titular R&B trio, a group who lit up the genre’s 90s Imperial phase. A salute to genre royalty, it’s also playful, with Summer able to cut up these references, pasting them back together in a moment of solitary fan worship.
A EP driven by her individual artistry, ‘Life On Earth’ finds space for two finely balanced features. ‘My Affection’ is aided by PARTYNEXTDOOR, while NO1-NOAH is the sparring partner on ‘White Tee’, the two oppositional vocal parts interweaving, giving the song a taut dynamic amid its spartan electronic machinery.
Finale ‘Deeper’ was designed as a counterpoint to 2019’s ‘Playing Games’, with the Atlanta songwriter surrendering to love. With her vocal purring just at the horizon of the speaker, she’s continually on the edge, the lyric becoming submerged in effects before racing back to stark reality.
Five ravishing down tempo moments, ‘Life On Earth’ is a pivotal transmission from the R&B artist, one that is heavy on aesthetic sensuality and lyrical emotion, which dipping into varied points of inspiration. With the touring schedule torn to shreds by COVID-19 and fans left to life in lockdown isolation, Summer Walker’s astute artistry feels perfectly judged.
Words: Robin Murray
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