With a string of sold out shows in March across the US, Summer Walker looks to be starting off the year with a statement of intent. As the groundswell of new music from Atlanta builds a platform for new young hip hop artists, Summer Walker reminds us that her hometown is also the place that brought us RnB stalwarts like Usher, TLC, Monica and Ciara. It’s good company to keep. Walker doesn’t just tread where others have walked, she is on her own path. A signee with the Atlanta-based record label LVRN (Love Renaissance) that includes DRAM, Boogie and 6LACK – again, it’s good company to keep.
The opening track of this EP is a slow serenade with a simple guitar line, giving all the space to introduce the albums protagonist. Walker croons –
‘And you think of roses and daisies
And I think of passion and fire like Hades
You say all the time, peace and quiet
But for my love, I need a riot, a riot’
– as she seeks to break out of the normality of a stagnant relationship. The intimacy of this acoustic opener, topped with some luscious and loose RnB melodies, places Summer Walker in the same category as her contemporaries, Daniel Caeser, SZA and Syd.
Grave is the first statement of real music intent on the record. The tune is held together with a warm melodic bassline and beautiful percussive elements that find space between Walkers’ delivery. Here, you can find Walker, almost fed up:
‘What do you get?
With a body without the soul
Just a pussyprint imprinted
Just another name on the road
You don’t lay your hat nowhere
For too long, rolling stone
That might work for other kittens
But not for me, so don’t call my phone’
As much as she dislikes the stagnant feel of a stale relationship, she dislikes the coldness of empty sex and the flurries of attitude in her vocal delivery give a great indication of her simmering frustration. Grave packages all Walkers frustrations in a sweet and memorable melee of rhythm and vibe.
On ‘Wasted’, Walker slows down the pace. The drums bring the tempo down without the song ever feeling sparse. Here, Walker demands the listener’s attention as she waxes ’I wanna get wasted with you, I wanna get wasted on you’. Clocking in at under 3 minutes, the song is a short one and the first time on the record that we hear Walker bringing desire to the table. It’s not unusual for modern RnB records to span more topics than simple romantic desire, but as Walker uses alcohol as the metaphorical vehicle we’re reminded that she can adhere to the influences and still bring her unique style to it. ‘Throw it back and I feel the burn’.
The EP closes with ‘Settling’. The song kicks off with a walking bassline before the distinctive duo of the sharp percussion and Walkers tones arrive slowly. Suddenly, the D’Angelo, Erykah Badu influences are clear. The way Walker uses her voice on this final track, the jazz drums and pull ups into open space and the brief guitar solo are all reminiscent of the year 2000 (Mama’s Gun & Voodoo).
‘I can’t live with you but I can’t live without you, and my hand is on the trigger, pull it out for you, oh, mmh’
The sentiment is stark and clear from Walkers opening vocals. Caught, torn, unsure. Settling as an album closer perfectly recontextualises the entire record. The frustration with the unchanging, the disaffection with broad social norms and the moments of effervescent desire, suddenly they are all cast in a different light. ‘Settling’ underlines the complexity of the emotional journey that Walker is charting. In some ways, as a recent snapshot of her mental and musical space, it performs its role as an EP.
It’s keeping us interested in smaller narrative arcs and emotional movements. It’s keeping us interested in an artist creating heartfelt and beautiful music. As she gears up to tour on the back of a performance on the Jimmy Kimmel show, Walker is staying relevant in a year that could see releases from both SZA and Solange. With this EP out we can enjoy it and look forward to hearing that an LP from Summer Walker might, could be, hopefully, is in the works.