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Jorja Smith Releases Sophomore Album, “falling or flying”

The true “Jorja Smith moment” probably came late last decade—a run beginning in 2017 with a couple of placements on Drake’s More Life, her entrance into the modern electronic canon with her & Preditah’s “On My Mind” and of course, her own debut record, Lost & Found. But it wouldn’t be fair to categorize that introductory period as a flash in the pan. With that whirlwind introduction, she showcased otherworldly musical talent that made her releases, though sparse, appointment listening. The one extended release since that prolific period was her 2021 EP Be Right Back, positioned as a “holdover” as fans awaited her second, full-length album. Though she wasn’t right back, back she is nonetheless with falling or flying.

Singles Set the Tone on falling or flying

One of the first tastes of the project we got was “GO GO GO“—a track that in the context of this album immediately conjures up comparisons to other R&B peers she shares the space with. Most obviously is to SZA and her take on mid-aughts punk rock with F2F. Though Jorja’s song is unquestionably a notch lower in energy, it doesn’t give up any ground when it comes to the reliance on jam-session drum & guitar lines and a repeated, pop-radio hook.

“Little Things,” also dropped as a single back in May, remains arguably the high watermark on the project a few months later. It’s a perfect synthesis of the myriad of influences that Jorja has shown off in the past. She blends the classical jazz musicality with the trademark garage sound of her home country. That manifests in the scat-like cadence that the singer employs during the chorus, as well as in the bridge sections, where that same bouncy flow presents almost as a call and response between her and the rising bass in the background. More than anything else, this song is a testament to why Jorja Smith remains so highly regarded, able to simultaneously tap into such a wide tapestry of sensibilities.

Retrieved from @jorjasmith on Instagram.

Key Homages to Earlier Influences

Another chance for Smith to nod to her UK roots comes on “Feelings,” where countryman J Hus makes an appearance. The song as a whole follows a pretty familiar rapper-and-singer formula to great success, with the quick handoffs between their sections making the piece as a whole almost function as a conversation between the two. That dynamic pushes Hus into softer territory than you’ll hear on his biggest hits, closing his verse with the on-the-money line “Badman, but sometimes I wanna cuddle.”

For those who fell in love with Jorja Smith’s music by way of her earlier work, there are still plenty of those vulnerable and conservative moments on falling or flying. “Broken is the man” is an ode to the ideal outcomes never fully realized in past relationships. Coming during a string of bite-sized reflections in the middle of the project, (“Make sense,” “Too many times”), this song shares the stripped-back production with those it neighbors in the tracklist. The lyrics are the real development with Jorja delivering some crushingly honest lines, like the one the chorus is centered around: “I wish you’d found the man that you thought I’d want to be with.”

The Honest Edge of Smith’s Second Record

To be sure, elsewhere in the project there’s material where love isn’t such a bad word. “Try and fit in” is one of them, a warm, tender reflection on the sacrifices a partner has made. A choir kicks in as she mentions them not being able to “spend a minute on [themselves] last week,” driving home the empathetic and delicate atmosphere Smith is tapping into. In the confines of this track, we also get some life advice while we’re at it, the singer’s tenor nearing a whisper as she warns, “money will change your pockets, not your mindset / only gonna run when you got it ’cause it’s harder to care.”

If you’re looking for closure in falling or flying‘s story arc, you get it at the very end with the heartfelt “What if my heart beats faster?” Here, Smith lands on some closure of her own, resolving that she’s at long last assured in her own preferences. It’s a wistful resolution that’s matched all around throughout the song, with the classical instrumentation here veering closer to classic soul than it does anywhere else on the album. That soars in the closing moments, as does some melodic Smith vocalizations before the song, and project, fade to black.

A crowded space in 2023, R&B has proved to be one of the harder genres to stand out in. With her second album, Jorja Smith proves again that those who counted her in the genre’s upper crust had the right idea. You can find falling or flying on streaming platforms everywhere.

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