fri 24/03/2023

Album: Nao - And Then Life Was Beautiful | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Nao - And Then Life Was Beautiful

Album: Nao - And Then Life Was Beautiful

The soulful singer goes for a more organic musical approach on her third album

Flowered up

Neo Jessica Joshua, better known as Nao, has been consistently putting out good – often excellent – music since 2014. Back then she was making off-kilter, funky R&B that felt both retro and futuristic. Since then she’s grown as an artist on both 2016’s For All We Know and 2018’s Saturn. 

And Then Life Was Beautiful is her third album and the emotional accumulation of the past few years. After burning out and struggling with writer's block, an eye-opening trip to South Africa and becoming a mother were catalysts for a renewed creativity. As a result, these songs feel genuinely warm and life-affirming. Yet sometimes they lack the immediacy of her previous work. 

And Then Life Was Beautiful is at it’s best when sensitive moments shine through and when her voice takes centre stage. Often simple sentiments bejewel the songs like on “Better Friend”, where she repeats “I promise that I’ll be a better friend to you”, over and over. 

Nao has a voice which is angelic and acrobatic. It sticks to the inside of your head and you find yourself attempting to imitate it (to little success). Her voice sounds stunning when paired with fellow ethereal crooner Serpentwithfeet on highlight “Postcards”. The layered harmonies on “I’m So Glad You’re Gone” are elegant, evoking comparisons to Solange, an artist she’s been revisiting for inspiration lately. 

Yet where Nao’s music was previously a vessel for some of the most interesting electronic production around, here the production – shimmering plucked guitars and downtempo drums – sometimes wash out the songs. Ballads like “Wait” and “Amazing Grace” don’t quite take off. A drum emerges at the end of “Wait” and seems to promise something but instead fizzles out. There’s no song here which reaches the heights of “Orbit”, the centrepiece of Saturn. 

Where the instrumentation sometimes toes the line between bland and tasteful, it ultimately ends up like the latter. The music embodies how Nao, and perhaps all of us, have had to slow down over the past year. These songs feel like a reminder of how important that can be. 

Below: Watch a live perfomance of "And Then Life Was Beautiful" by Nao


Genuinely warm and life-affirming, yet sometimes lacking the immediacy of her previous work


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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