Going into this project I knew I would have to leave all premonitions at the door as I had a feeling any preconceived ideas about what to expect would only taint the way I consumed ‘Ungodly Hour’. Their debut album ‘The Kids Are Alright’ released in 2018, to put it simply is an absolute masterpiece. They vocally meander through the most eclectic selection of sounds; their operatic vocal abilities fitting perfectly on top of some really bouncy hip-hop beats which shouldn’t work; but it does. Earning them two Grammy nominations out the gate, their debut album placed them amongst the big boys in the new age of R&B artists pretty quickly for me. Chloe x Halle clearly possess an in-depth understanding of music itself outside of their own work that puts them miles above a lot of their peers, which means I had high expectations for whatever came next. Between 2018 and 2020, they’d given us one of my favourite releases of 2019 ‘who knew (from Grown-ish)’ (they’re the best characters in that show by the way), which didn’t allude to anything new sonically but suggested a growth in their lyrical content.
However, following the release of the first single ‘Catch Up’ ft. Mike-WiLL Made It & Swae Lee, which I still don’t like very much, I quickly realised that they’d decided to try something completely different and it made me anxious. During their Instagram Live series aptly named ‘Ungodly Hour/Tea Time’, they’ve been quite vocal about how frustrating being perceived as overly cutesy and childish has been for them. Being 21 and 20 respectively and still being treated like they’re too young to have anything real to say was a clear motivator for this project and this fact makes itself known in all the graphic aspects of its rollout. From the title of the album itself to the visual for their latest single ‘Do It’ (I still watch it at least once within any given 24 hour period), it’s very obvious that they’ve decided it’s time the world sees them for the age that they are.
‘Ungodly Hour’ grabs my attention immediately with the first full track ‘Forgive Me’, on which they ride an extremely heavy beat with an almost angry vocal performance from Chloe and a more supportive role from Halle, balancing out the vibe beautifully. The song is large, loud and incredibly intentional in its abrasiveness that I’m immediately taken aback with the understanding of just how unique this project is about to be. My thoughts are confirmed with songs like ‘Tipsy’, a big favourite, that comes in with Halle talking her shit on a Chloe Bailey-produced beat that could be perceived as busy but again, they make it work. Halle lazily dances between almost rapping on the hook and finding an insanely catchy melody on chorus leaving me bopping my head hard from beginning to end. I think it’s important to note just how much range Halle Bailey possesses vocally but also artistically and she doesn’t shy away from flexing all her muscles in this album. From sing-rapping on ‘Tipsy’ to a painfully ethereal vocal performance on ‘Wonder What She Thinks of Me’, I’m almost stunned at her ability to tailor her delivery to the production at hand.
Chloe, producing 6 out of the 13 tracks, one with Halle (‘Wonder What She Thinks of Me’ ) and another with Boi-1da and Jahaan Sweet (‘ROYL’), managed to make her style not only obvious but identifiable within this body of work. Sitting comfortably next to the likes of Scott Storch (‘Do It’ & ‘Lonely’), Jeff “Gitty” Gitelman (‘Busy Boy’ & ‘Don’t Make It Harder On Me’) and Disclosure (‘Ungodly Hour’) to name a few, you can distinguish her experimental merge of heavy 808s and busy high-hats easily from the rest. She’s evidently very fond of rhythm over melody, with only ‘Overwhelmed’ being carried mostly by a piano, her decision to let the beats set the tone for tracks like ‘Baby Girl’ and ‘ROYL’ leaves the both of them more room to experiment with their cadence and it pays off. We’re provided with a such a wide selection of moods throughout the project considering it’s not very long and you can tell it’s mainly because they’re just having fun. In saying this, they still work so excellently with their external production selection, Disclosure and Scott Storch being my personal favourites. Disclosure gives us a breezy, mid-tempo reprise in ‘Ungodly Hour’ that rests at the heart of the project, serving as a seamless transition between the first and second half whereas Scott’s production on ‘Lonely’ although very simple is so effective in conveying the vulnerability of the lyrics.
As much as I love the album’s opening songs with songs like ‘Do It’ already in the running for R&B Pop song of the year in my opinion, the second half completely takes the cake for me as songs like ‘Don’t Make It Harder On Me’ and ‘Wonder What She Thinks of Me’ take us on the all-too-familiar journey through the heartbreak with ‘Overwhelmed’ opening a more personal door. During tracks 9 to 12 they display a lot more lyrical prowess than they had earlier in the project, adding a layer of intimacy that I was originally worried would be missing. The sound is a little more similar to their previous work, but they seem to be talking from genuinely personal experiences, finally letting us listeners really see them.
Out of the long list of things that really impress me about ‘Ungodly Hour’, I’m especially enamoured with how much space they give each other as individuals to let the audience in; we get to hear each of them speak for themselves a lot more than one would think possible for a duo without losing an element of cohesiveness. Each of their verses give very distinct perspectives to the same narrative that end up colouring the project with a lot of unexpected personality. ‘Ungodly Hour’ has all the makings of a successful project without even attempting to be sonically similar to what is currently popular where music is concerned. They’ve chosen to place themselves in front of musical trends rather than behind, consistently staying true to their own unique spin on R&B/Soul which has meant that Chloe x Halle have managed to produce one of the most original bodies of work I’ve heard in a very long time with a worrying amount of ease. And they’re still just getting started.