The sugary vocal stylings of Nao have been a staple of British music for a fair few years now, whether on original tracks like Another Lifetime and Bad Blood or collaborations with electronic figureheads such as Mura Masa and Disclosure. With her third album, And Then Life Was Beautiful, she delivers some chunky neo-soul grooves, lush instrumentation and lyrics generally focusing on self-discovery.
Glad That You’re Gone is a fine example, with its delicious vocal harmonies on the hook and backbeat that could have been lifted straight from a Flying Lotus tune (“Rather be alone than to beg you to stay / rather lose it all than hold on to this pain / no I won’t cry, no tears from me / you know I’m fine, I’ll be okay”) while Better Friend holds out the hand of solidarity over a topline that bears more than a passing resemblance to Ariana Grande’s thank u, next.
Nao’s attempts to diversify her sound have mixed results across the record: Antidote with Adekunle Gold is a mighty fine afrobeats-style duet complete with syncopated percussion and plucked metallic chords, but the piano-based balladeering on Wait is superfluous outside the confines of an Emeli Sandé album. She is in her element, however, on Messy Love, a tune whose elegant strings and sonorous bass take the prize for the most captivating musical effect.
Nothing’s For Sure, a rekindling of her long-term alliance with Grades, extols the virtues of living in the moment, a modern-day Que Sera Sera over an infectious shuffling beat, and at points like this it feels as if Nao’s comfort zone is the best place to be. And Then Life Was Beautiful shimmers in the heat of the summer just gone, and strikes a good balance between exhortation and introspection.