NAO – For All We Know Review


NAO is not your usual shining hopeful to land on the R&B radar. Former jazz student and backing vocalist for Jarvis Cocker, she has already had her share of experience. And this experience pours into her debut For All We Know: a buoyant collection of swirling 80s/90s nostalgia merged with an individualism that stencils a 2016 breakthrough.

The album waltzes in, using the shimmery Intro (Velvet) to authenticate NAO’s voice. It’s distinctive and unfamiliar, soft but striking. This is underpinned in the following Get To Know Ya, produced by Jungle, in which the bubbly funk of guitars pave the way for an almost seemingly-helium-induced vocal arrangement. The casual mellowness surrounding the track makes it very retro, yet the impressive layers of bass, synth, guitar, topped off by the vocals, makes for a complex reinvention of modern day R&B. Inhale Exhale is next. Produced by GRADES, this track seems a bit more 21st-century; with noticeable builds and raw progressions, not to mention the extensive synth work, the track is like a subdued dancefloor success. After Inhale Exhale is one of three Voice Memo interludes. Usually I’m not a fan of interludes, yet I think the voice memo element adds some personality to the album: it allows the listener to feel a little more connected to the artist. Voice Memo 161, 163 and 4 depict some studio time with NAO and her band; authentic behind the scenes snippets that add a little extra spirit to the tracklist. Voice Memo 162 does divide up the album – before it is Happy, another exploration of fluctuating synths and Nile Rogers-esque basslines, whereas afterwards comes Adore You. The track is more settled, still including delicate harmonies and 80s hooks, but in regards to NAO, it’s a ballad, featuring the gentle vocals of Abhi//Dijon. Voice Memo 4 (Say Yes) splits the album further, rousing the ghostly tones of Blue Wine. Conflicting the layers of flamboyancy reflective of the earlier tracks, Blue Wine consists of a piano, vocals and a fainter synth (though it swells towards the end), with a more relaxed, wound down tempo. The track is also an excellent display of NAO’s vocals, with a range to rival Love On Top Beyoncé. With an album boasting 18 tracks, a break from the thriving 80sness becomes welcome.

Trophy is a stand-out track. So many dimensions of music have been pulled in to produce this song, from the grungy Bowie-era guitar entrance to the incandescent bass. A.K Paul also features, demonstrating a range of influences. What’s more, NAO’s vocals haven’t been tampered with – close your eyes and you’re in the echoing studio with her. A fan of the more restrained tracks would enjoy DYWM. Standing for Do You Want Me, the song is a summer staple: to begin with, the track simply studies vocals lying on top of a Spanish guitar riff, but soon develops into a subtly funky track, with a simmering synth to back the chorus and a punchy bass. Lyrically, the track is also noteworthy: it has the potential to fulfil the seductive expectations of modern day R&B, yet it follows a more moving lyrical structure.

For All We Know is a sharp debut. NAO demonstrates incredible musical talent across the board. From the vocals to the layering of the tracks, everything has been done so intricately, whether it is to produce the boisterous disco-inspired tracks or the tender ballads. There’s no doubt NAO has made a mark on the R&B industry with such a strong debut.

NAO – For All We Know: 8.5/10

Eleanor Chivers 

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