Alina Baraz Album Review: It Was Divine
Artwork shot by Dana Trippe Alina Baraz found her gently undulating lane right away and she’s pretty much stayed in it ever since. On her 2013 breakthrough track, aptly named ‘Drift,’ she lifted adowntempo instrumental from Dutch producer Galamatiasand added languid lyrics to turn it into a Sade-esque ballad: "You're like a wave washing over me/Pulling me underneath," she sighs, sliding her honeyed tones up and down the words. Galamatias was understandably seduced when he heard it, and the two officially collaborated on a 2015 EP called Urban Flora (Ultra), which perfected the formula.
Baraz has just released her first full-length project, It Was Divine on (Mom + Pop), and for both better and worse, she continues to do what she does, with track after track of dreamy tempos, sex-soaked smoky vocals, and romantic lyrics. "I can see my whole life when I'm with you," she laments on opening track ‘My Whole Life’ a song that almost begs to be used as part of a new-school television’s score.
Baraz's consistency and focus is an advantage when choosing guest stars; teaming up with 6LACK for single ‘Morocco’ is inspired in its obviousness with the Atlanta rapper’s fuzzily laid-back style sliding perfectly into her groove whilst their slight tonal contrast gives the song an edge, resulting in smooth perfection. Following a 2017 collaboration with R&B singer Khalid on the stunning song ‘Electric’, they get together again for Baraz's ‘Off the Grid’, a hooky summer jam which bops gently from flirtatious to more than flirtatious when Baraz lowers her voice to a Julie London whisper. Nas' verse on ‘Until I Met You’ fits nicely as well. When he says he wants someone "to chill and listen to oldies with", Baraz multi-tracks herself providing a chorus of "oooos", a nice tribute to her retro-90s influence and vibes. Smino proves himself again to be a big asset where featuring is concerned, taking “Gimme The Wheel” from a rather uninteresting song to something a little more memorable.
Artwork by Dana Trippe
If you begin listening to this project yearning for the sound we’re used to hearing from Alina, you won't be disappointed by It Was Divine, which serves those vibes up beautifully on songs like ‘Endlessly’, ‘Night and Morning’and ‘More Than Enough’. One track blurs into another, for 53 minutes of warm and extremely romantic chill and to put it simply, it’s gorgeous. Sometimes a slightly larger bass can be found on songs like ‘Be Good’, and other times, as on the (excellent) piano jazz riff ‘Memo Blue’, or the lovely acoustic guitar driven ‘Say You Know’ it's dialed down. But she never seems to wander into a change in tempo or move the topic of conversation from the sheets to the club.
At 53 minutes, that singular approach can almost get monotonous. None of the songs are bad at all, in fact a few are excellent, but on the other hand if you lost two or threeof some of the more mediocre melodies, you wouldn't exactly notice. By the end casual listeners are likely to wish Alina had used her first album to move just a step out of her comfort zone and experiment on at least one track with more raucous beats, tempos, or emotions. However it’s pretty obvious, with the level of cohesion this album bringsthat the tonal and subdued approach to R&B is where her heart lies. And to be fair, she's very good at it.