By Sanai Meles
If there’s one thing that shines through brightly on Low Key (2015), the debut album of New York based R&B singer, BOYSLASHFRIEND, it’s the aesthetic touches with which he has outfitted this project. BOYSLASHFRIEND is an artist with a knack for melody and composition, which is no surprise given he is a self-professed 90’s R&B enthusiast. And while we can all agree that 90’s R&B having itself something of a comeback these days (Bryson Tiller, Torey Lanez, dvsn, etc.), BOYSLASHFRIEND doesn’t set himself up to be a revivalist on this album.
Instead, Low Key stands proudly as a showcase for an artist whose keen pop sensibilities pull from a variety of influences–alternative R&B, dance music, electronic, and even his hometown of NYC. The end product is forward sounding pop/R&B record that bodes well for BOYSLASHFRIEND.
The albums tips off with the the pleasantly smooth and airy sounding, “Off That.” BOYSLASHFRIEND’s soft voice barely utters, “Set it off, let it off, get it off/It’s time to leave” against a slow rolling, minimalist backdrop that gradually fills out by the song’s end.
Things kick into high gear with the superb “Textures,” a 90’s house inspired number that culminates with an epiphanic course. The track’s colorful synths and driving tempo make for starry-eyed vibes that would sound right at home in any New York dance club.
The album’s production is diverse and intricate, making ample use of distorted/layered vocals, sound effects, and wide-ranging synths. While there are variety of names, partner/collaborator Christian “MNTN” Mariano anchors the project with credits on 4 of the 10 tracks (which are unsurprisingly some of the album’s best)
BOYSLASHFRIEND seems comfortable with whatever is thrown his way, but there is the occasional misstep. “UP2U” sounds cluttered, using seemingly every trick available in the EDM handbook. While the “Slow Dance” falls a bit flat never reaching the emotional and melodic highs of the rest of the album.
Nevertheless, there is plenty else to take in from this album. BOYSLASHFRIEND plays the role of the hopeless romantic immersed in a swirl of emotions that loom large over him, all within a city that looms even larger. The music is crisp and smooth throughout, and BOYSLASHFRIEND’s brand of pop/R&B is a sonically more mature, polished take on the pop trends of today. And through it all, the emotion never seems to get lost.
“Maiden Lane & Broadway” is the bittersweet homage to the love/hate relationship he has with his hometown of New York. The DJ Mustardesque “Not Me Not Now” shows his versatility as he makes easy work of the instrumental, while “BTWN” lays bare the the emotional longing of desire and attraction.
Low Key comes to a close with the sparse title track. The occasional strum of the guitar is the only accompaniment to BOYSLASHFRIEND’s vocals in this fitting, meaningful conclusion.
At 10 tracks, Low Key is compact and taut. BOYSLASHFRIEND is a likable, easy going figure and his voice never wears thin or redundant. He once explained in an interview with The FADER, “There was something I was missing in R&B….I was done trying to find it, so I decided to just make it.” The DIY spirit is certainly alive and well in Low Key and it never really hampers the album one bit. He is masterful in his ability to inhabit a wide array of pop music’s styles, though he sounds best when his voice is not boxed in by heavy production but is allowed to shine through in strategic moments of melodic,harmonious gold. It will be interesting to see where BOYSLASHFRIEND goes from here, though I doubt it will be anything but low key.
Check out BOYSLASHFRIEND’s Soundcloud Page where Low Key is available for streaming in full.
Check out the music video for “Textures” here.
INTERVIEW W/ BOYSLASHFRIEND
BOYSLASHFRIEND. WHERE DOES THE NAME COME FROM?
My personal situations where I find myself with women. I'm not your boyfriend and I'm not just your friend, I'm your boyslashfriend :)
METAPHOR OR IMAGE THAT COMES TO MIND THAT COULD BEST DESCRIBE YOUR MUSIC.
Candle-lit bedrooms, driving thru LA at night in a white 911, and being at a warehouse party playing dope music you never heard.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THOUGHTS OR IDEAS AT THE FOREFRONT OF YOUR MIND WHEN CRAFTING MUSIC?
Melody that flow with lyrics. Songs that you could sing along to. And most of all--the songs have to be relatable and honest.
ANY MEMORABLE ARTISTS, ALBUMS, SONGS, OR MUSIC VIDEOS THAT COME TO MIND IN TERMS OF INSPIRATION OR NOSTALGIA?
Pharrell's "Frontin" music video combined with The Dream's Love vs. Money album
NYC IS HOME RIGHT? HAVE THERE BEEN ANY OTHER CITIES OR MUSIC SUBCULTURES THAT YOU HAVE DRAWN FROM OR HAVE BEEN FASCINATED WITH?
Los Angeles. I was really loving DJ Mustard's reign and I still do. I also like the Grime scene that's bubbling in the UK. It's the most raw thing that's happening with hip hop right now in my opinion.
ANY PLACE IN PARTICULAR, YOU'RE LOOKING FORWARD OR HAVE ALREADY VISITED ON THE TOUR?
ATL! I love this place. Atlanta's sound is so hot right now and it's so dope to hear where the songs come from and actually being in the environment. It's like being in the song. It's incredible. I haven't experienced anything like that, since the old New York.
ANYTHING YOU HAVE BEEN LISTENING TO AS OF LATE THAT HAS CAUGHT YOUR EAR?
Desiigner. That song goes so hard in the club and I feel like it's Future when I'm turning up to it. And it's mind blowing that he's from Brooklyn. And also being signed to GOOD music. It's mind blowing to me. I got so many mixed feelings about him. Lol
WHAT'S ON THE HORIZON?
Palm trees and good food. I'm leaving NYC to live somewhere else for the first time in my life. I'm going to LA.
ANY LAST WORDS FOR THE PEOPLE?
I love this. R&B is my bae.