album by August Prum February 1, 2018
SiR, who spent the beginning of his musical career behind the scenes, has stepped out into the spotlight with November, his first album since signing to Top Dawg Entertainment a year ago.
SiR began as an engineer, working with artists like Tyrese, before teaming up with songwriting team Dre and Vidal and honing his songwriting craft. He then worked extensively with Anita Baker and would go on to write for R&B mainstays like Jill Scott and Ginuwine.
The current R&B landscape is still largely characterized by a post-Weeknd identity crisis. As revolutionary and different as House of Balloons was, that record has become as well-known for spawning an entire generation of Bryson Tillers and Tory Lanezes trying to replicate Abel’s magic rather than its actual quality.
But every aesthetic trend will always produce a pushback. Take, for instance the aggressive, lo-fi work of young rappers like Smokepurpp, Lil Pump, and Tay-K. Their music can be seen as the sonic response to years of sadboy Drake imitations.
This is all to say that while R&B swung heavily towards the dark, drug-addled sounds of early Weeknd, some artists are bringing back the genre to its heyday, adding a little new school spin. Brent Faiyaz, Daniel Caeser, Jorja Smith, Kelela, and Kali Uchis have all made amazing R&B music in the past year that recalls the genre’s best qualities.
This is where SiR comes in.
November is very much in the old school R&B mold, especially in its simplistic, soulful production, but much of the reference and lyrical content on the record is more modern. Perhaps the most outwardly modern aspect of November is SiR’s companion ‘K’, a disembodied voice that checks in on SiR, and subsequently the listener, on their journey throughout the record.
The album begins with K and SiR discussing the status of his engines, reserve power, weapons, and shields of their spaceship, or whatever vehicle we are using on this journey, before K let’s everyone know we’re ready to go.
A musical project that carries a theme of a long journey suggests that that work will have some pretty large aspirations. But November is very well-contained. SiR, while he’s able to switch up his singing style depending on instrumentation, keeps his project well within the familiar R&B margins.
“That’s Alright”, the first actual song on the record, after our opening with K, is backed with simple drums and live-sounding bass and organs. SiR sings mutedly about a love interest that he’s especially into, despite the fact that her friends are skeptical “‘Cause they know I would trade her love for a Grammy.”
It’s interesting to hear this sort of modern songwriting over such retro-styled production, but this is one of SiR’s great skills. It’s what makes November both sonically entertaining but also lyrically interesting.
“That’s Alright” is followed up by “Something Foreign”, the album’s lead single with SiR’s TDE labelmate Schoolboy Q. It’s a slow-rolling ballad about enjoying the finer things in life despite the coldness of the world. SiR sings,
“Tryna keep it humble in a world full of egos, gangsters and evils
Player in the game but I’m making my own rules”
The somber pianos on “Something Foreign” beautifully contrast SiR and Schoolboy’s cool boasts, it’s a pretty great track.
Then comes “D’Evils”, which samples Billy Bojo “One Spliff a Day”. “D’Evils” is as groovy, soulful, and fun of an R&B record in recent memory. It’s just a smooth ass song about getting high. What makes SiR’s music so particularly effective is the way his voice seems to simply roll over the production.
It never feels like SiR is trying too hard, even when the product of his work is as effective as “D’Evils” or “Something Foreign”.
That’s also the case on “Something New” a duet with British songstress Etta Bond. With horns that sound like they were taken from There’s A Riot Goin On, SiR and Bond sing about rediscovering that passion with an old love
“And if everything else falls apart, I still have you
If I can’t find my way back home, we’ll make something new
SiR is capable of making ballads about smoking loud and his love for his partner. That’s true versatility!
On “Never Home”, twinkling instrumentation accompanies SiR on a monotone, quasi-spoken word track about life for a young up-and-coming musician. He’s not too worried about the voicemail from an aggrieved (assumed) former lover that plays throughout the song (never leave a musician a voicemail!).
After using his speaking voice for the entitreity of “Never Home”, “War” is a more typical romantic R&B ballad. And while he was a little unmerciful on the previous song, at least from the woman in the voicemail’s perspective, SiR is as sappy as possible on “War”. He’s ready to make up for previous mistakes with his partner.
“Yes I, let you down
I wasn’t the man you wanted to fall for the first time around
Ammunition just wasn’t sufficient
The bullets in my pistol kept missin’
Your heart, but I’m re-loaded”
Then on “Better”, SiR is full of regret for losing someone that he wasn’t able to show his love for. “Better” has the most contemporary sounding production on the record, with filtered vocals and rolling hi-hats. The entire track is basically SiR listing off his various reasons for not being ready to really be there for a former partner.
“She just wanted to love me and I wouldn’t let her
Now she don’t know me, ’cause somebody treatin’ her better”
At the end of “Better” we have an emotional check in with K as SiR directs his disembodied voice companion to delete the transmission.
K responds “Transmission deleted. Are you okay?” SiR sighs and tells her to initiate sleep mode and autopilot before the final stretch of the album.
On the final two tracks on November, SiR is at his soulfoul best. Over the “Xxplosive”-sounding guitars on “Dreaming of Me” SiR’s voice soars along the track as he sings about being separated from his lover while he’s on the road. After the emotional intensity of “Better” and “War”, there is a sense that the easily digestible “Dreaming of Me” is a sort of musical autopilot. Also, it’s not a mistake that we’re in “sleep mode” and this is a song about dreams.
November‘s final track “Summer in November” features funk guitars that could’ve been on Miguel’s last album. SiR is definitely taking a page out of Miguel’s book with the quick bite in his voice as he sings “You’re summer in November darlin’.”
It’s a great conclusion to an album that charts a journey from beginning to end. Sometimes that journey is arduous and emotionally painful, at other times it’s extremely pleasant and full of levity.
Either way, you gotta stop and admire the view.