by Carter Delloro
Regular readers of my reviews here on OVRLD might not be aware that I have a deep love of indie R&B. Artists like The-Dream, Miguel and the Weeknd are among my absolute favorites for so many reasons. I love their smooth voices, beautiful melodies, slinky rhythms, and clever lyrics. You all don’t know this, though, because there’s hardly anybody in Austin performing this kind of music. That is, of course, except Sweet Limb on their new record, Songs for Women.
This minimal, smooth, kind-of-dark R&B sound seems relatively new for the group. On their previous release from earlier this year, Sunshine, Sweet Limb played a much brighter (if still mellow) folksy sound. Nothing on that record, though, suggests the texture on display in the lead off track on Songs for Women, “Good Love.”
“Good Love” starts with some sparsely programmed percussion, immediately placing it in the realm of modern indie R&B. This shouldn’t be surprising given that Sweet Limb named this record after a Frank Ocean song, but given the band’s history, this feels like a radical departure. After a few moments of scene-setting percussion, we’re introduced to the two other elements that round out the track – plain, acoustic power chords and Chris Robinson’s crazy-smooth voice. The track doesn’t progress much from here, but it doesn’t have to– its atmosphere is captivating.
The next couple of tracks on the record mine similar territory (sometimes replacing the guitar with a keyboard) to great effect. Soon, though, it becomes clear that Sweet Limb is still acclimating to this new sound of theirs. On “Care,” the acoustic guitar is overly bright, clashing with the spooky, reverbed percussion. “Don’t Hold Back” sounds too much like John Mayer over a James Blake-produced rhythm track. I get totally pulled out of the overly earnest “It’s True” when Robinson sings, “Think I saw you at South-By…” before describing a situation that could have happened any weekend at any major city in the country.
Still, in those first few tracks (and then sprinkled elsewhere across the record) you can hear a good supply of some of those characteristics of indie R&B that I find really appealing: Smooth voice? Check. Beautiful melodies? Check. Slinky rhythms? Check. The one real missing element is the clever lyrics. There’s nothing on Songs For Women as charismatic as Miguel’s “Quickie” or The-Dream’s “Yamaha.” Nothing here approaches the detailed perfection of Ocean’s “Novacane” or the dark realism of The Weeknd’s House of Balloons. Right now, Sweet Limb are testing themselves out in this department, and they have plenty of time to find their footing.
Ultimately, Songs for Women boils down to being a really good template for things to come. Sweet Limb are doing something that few others are attempting here in Austin, and I hope that they continue down that path. Our local scene will be richer for it…and I really just want some more indie R&B to jam.