Asa's 'Lucid' is familiar, yet worth the wait [Pulse Review]
The album is well-produced with beautiful songwriting.
At the time, I refused to listen to Kanye West's College Dropout and Late Registration until 2006 because 'his hype was too much.' This vanity also took centre-stage with my judgement of a certain France-born, four-eyed and braided singer called, Asa. Her self-titled debut album was released just months prior.
Although I appreciated 'Jailer' in my bones the first time I heard it, my teenage self refused to admit it to my friends and in particular, my older sister. However, I gave in to my fear of missing out and I bought the Asha CD, ripped it on my laptop and put the songs on my phone. My thought was one day, I was going to listen.
Then one day, I was walking to a training session at 'Osekita' on the expressway that separated the University gate from a block of apartments where student lived. We were preparing for our third and final group game of the 'Fresher's Cup.'
I was suspended for the second game. I also argued with my coach and captain when they berated me for getting a foolish second yellow card. We lost that second game like we lost the first - both were 3-0 losses. After the second game, my coach looked at me like I caused both losses.
Our set was heralded as the best squad of freshers in a while. Yet, he we were staring down the barrel of a shotgun.
The prospect of going out at the group stage without winning a game weighed heavy because I was emotionally invested - I also blamed myself a little. So, as I walked to that training session, a lot was on my mind. In fact, I intentionally decided to walk 500 yards to clear my head - I could have let the bike take me the whole way.
As I walked, I played music on my Nokia 3110c. The song was 'Breakaway' by Kelly Clarkson, but my music player was on shuffle. Then something happened, 'Bibanke' by Asa came on. I had heard it on radio, but this was its first time autocratically owning my being. As I walked on and with vehicles moving past me on the road, the song ate deeper.
Although lyrically, the song addresses a different scenario to mine, its melancholia suddenly found common ground with mine. As the cars drove past, I suddenly felt helpless and alone. Before I knew it, I was almost shedding tears. I had to pull the headphones off my head. That day, I realized why Asa's music had gathered a cult following - I became a fan.
Asa is as much an enigma as she is a generational talent. Born Bukola Elemide, her self-titled first album shook Nigeria and made people appreciate her blend of alternative and introspective mood music. As I have grown older, I can tell different tales about phases of my life that coincide with an Asa album release. I always relate to her stories and themes in some way - however little.
Asa (the album) effortlessly blended soul, folk, alternative and jazz for transcendental appreciation. So when she released her fourth album, LUCID on Friday, October 11, 2019, I had expectations.
It drops five years after Asa's last album, Bed of Stone. The album documents topics of heartbreak, self-discovery, empowerment, love, joy, pain and identity. Like any Asa album, at its root are beautifully composed melodies and imaginative songwriting dipped in symbolism.
Party: The better days
The jazz kicks in with the soul of a ballad on 'Happy People.' Sung in predominant Yoruba, Asa documents the happier days of owanbe anticipation complete with ankara, carefully picked bras and shoes. This is satire at its finest, documenting the culture of a people.
Love: The Chase
Before any relationship, there is the 'chase.' One party seeks the other out with the sweetest words and promises of great days. That is Asa's story on the dance-pop songs, 'You and Me' and 'Until We Try (This Lo').
Love: Before the break-up
Relationships crash for different things. On Lucid, Asa documents some of those reasons; bad partners, arguments, an inability to seize moments and so forth. When improper timing is the issue, intimacy suffers - that is Asa's message on, 'Stay Tonight' as she urges a partner to seize the moment.
The production on it sounds like something by Starsailor or Daft Punk. Then, the soul track, 'Don't Let Me Go,' which feels like follow-up to 'The Beginning' drops. On it, Asa sees the break-up looming and a soliloquy ensues - she hopes her lover hears it.
Love: Break-up and guilt
'Murder In The USA' which opens the album literally documents a crime scene. But figuratively, it is simply a story about the death of love.
On an alternative rock tune which features a collision of instruments, Asa sings as a person who blames herself for the end of a relationship and its negative effects on her partner. If you have caused a relationship to end while your partner harbors crushing heartbreak, you know what she sings about.
Moments of break-up are like scars. The mind never forgets. 'Femi Mo,' is the sentimental ballad/smooth soul song about the end of a 10-year relationship. Asa sings in Yoruba about how a lover called a relationship quits.
Before certain relationships crash, people argue. Sometimes in the middle of those arguments, you feel the love drain and you see the beginning of the end. Love is understanding, but when lovers start getting desperate to speak during arguments, there's a problem. Asa sings about that realization on 'The Beginning,' the lead single from Lucid.
The song is about the end of an on-and-off relationship that ended years ago over "words like daggers." The song is a letter to that lover who walks out as Asa's character hopes to go back to 'The Beginning.'
'My Dear' is an intricate story of a wedding day. Sadly, the groom never shows up. This is also a break-up story, but its perspective is different.
Love: post-heartbreak anger and depression
According to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, grief comes in five stages. The second stage is anger. Sometimes, this happens in love and heartbreak. On 'Torn,' Asa sings that there is "no refund for a broken heart" and that she would feel much better if she could rip her lover's heart in two. She sings that, "I am torn between evil and hurting you."
As Sherlock Holmes said, "Hate is a paralytic, but love is a vicious motivator." Asa documents what love can do on this indie sound.
Love: Identity, self-discovery and power
Sometimes, love crashes because some partners of bad partners who constantly demand, oppress, complain and demean till they lose, a 'Good Thing.' It's good when these demeaned partners take the power and walk out with their heads held high. That is Asa on 'Good Thing' She is positive and self-empowered.
'Makes No Sense' feels like a continuation of the empowering tone of 'Good Thing.' Although Asa sings about how she couldn't have given more in the relationship, she sings, "I've had enough" of this one-sided love.
Another track which follows this mold of empowering break-ups from draining love affairs is soul music, '365.' It documents the end of a draining five-year relationship. The violin and guitar works on this song are beautiful.
Sometimes, you have to seize the power. Asa sings for the oppressed on '9 Lives.' However, in the entire zeitgeist of this album, this song sticks out.
Except for 'Happy People,' Asa sings about love, different forms of break-up and heartbreak. Although documenting different scenarios, the album can be summed up in three perspectives; crushing break-ups (heartbreak), empowerment (break-ups and victories) and happiness - which also includes 'the chase.'
Sometimes, if feels like Asa was repeating the same themes, but one could say she tries to tell the same story from different perspectives. This is evident in how Asa talks about each theme on two or more occasions.
To be honest, Asa will probably never release a bad album and this is excellent, but track listing on this album fails to promote cohesion. It feels like it was organized to aid progression of sound while its themes feel a little scattered.
The A&R could have arranged the songs to follow a track list that tells her stories in this order; stories of happiness, stories about the chase, stories of heartbreak, stories of break-ups and post-break-up.
This writer also feels that while the album is still excellent with new themes, there is no sonic uniqueness to it. We have heard it before from Asa. That said, as I noted in a previous review for Simi's album, Omo Charlie Champagne, it is hard for people who make music like Simi and Asa to reinvent without totally leaving their brand.
• 0-1.9: Flop
• 2.0-3.9: Near fall
• 4.0-5.9: Average
• 6.0-7.9: Victory
• 8.0-10: Champion
Pulse Rating: /10
Content, Songwriting and Themes: 1.7/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.5/2
7.5 - Victory
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