VIII (Future Classic)
Even when Wafia al-Rikabi is singing about the impersonal and bloody (in this case elements of the war in her ancestral home, Syria, within the almost-‘80s-dance-song Bodies) she sounds pretty chilled. Which isn’t to say disconnected, rather that her delicate lilt and almost effortless delivery makes everything feel relaxed enough to ease any part of the song’s passage.
In 83 Days, one of the three songs from this EP previously sighted as stand-alone tracks (or what we old folks used to call singles), she glides over a rhythm track already electronically smoothed in its synth bed and murmuring drums. Yet even as you spot the little burrs of regret and maybe even bitterness in the lyrics, it’s as if Wafia, and you, know that just lying down and gazing up at the sky will make it work.
That’s also the case in Only Love, a flickering bit of electro pop that Flight Facilities might be tempted to borrow, flute part and all, where little swirls of sound rise up like smoke.
In Breathe, one of the new songs, she invites someone into her heart, which is “feeling empty today”, and the invitation comes gift-wrapped in the most laidback R&B this side of a SZA ballad.
Over this Wafia’s singing lightly lands on each note, taking some of the tension out of any neediness implied by the empty heart. If there’s pain here, it isn’t going to define her it seems.
This sweetness, for want of a better/less judgemental word, makes an interlude track, titled Interlude, all the more noticeable even as it just makes it past two minutes. Here the presence of Ta-ku offering his slightly disembodied and less obviously “easy” voice, brings a touch of disquiet to proceedings.
It’s a good (minor) shift of gear before this EP’s final track, Ending, where Finneas joins her for some ambiguity in the crumbling stage of a relationship. In a song which echoes behind its cast-aside rhythm and tweaks some strings for a flash of emotional colour, Wafia this time does show the hurt, albeit positively – or is it defensively – as bruises rather than deep cuts.
There’s an argument for Wafia being a little light-on, the sound suggestive of something too “young”, but I find her resistance to any suggestion of bringing things we might want/expect – such as overt anger or tension – intriguing. And, yes, an easy pleasure.