by Anna Ayres-Brown
Very rarely does an artist emerge with the vocal chops and boundary-pushing musical style of Erykah Badu. Badu has pioneered the subgenre of neo-soul, incorporating funk, hip hop, and jazz into a discography that addresses insecurity, religion, and institutionalized racism. For decades, Badu has been challenging musical norms through her music; in fact, Badu has professed that “no one else is trying to take a chance or do something different [in the music business].” It is easy to believe that a talent like Badu comes once in a lifetime. The arrival of Chicago-based R&B artist Eryn Allen Kane, however, suggests that it might come twice.
Originally from Detroit, Kane has had an incredibly busy year. After hearing her music online, Prince invited the young musician to sing on “Baltimore,” his protest song for the Black Lives Matter movement. Since then, Kane has collaborated with increasingly high-profile artists, including Chance the Rapper, J. Cole, and Spike Lee on his recent film, Chi-Raq. Kane’s massively successful year has culminated with the release of two EPs, Aviary: Act I and Aviary: Act II. Composed of nine dynamic and cohesive tracks, these EPs mark Kane’s entrance into the music world as a songwriter and solo performer.
Throughout the entirety of the collective record, Kane demonstrates confidence and control as a writer and vocalist. The opening track, “Bass Song,” begins with the plucking of an upright bass and Kane’s smooth, calming vocals. Kane’s crooning is widely agreeable to the ear. She scats at a slackened pace for eight measures, immediately establishing an undeniably sensual feel to her music before her lyrics have even begun. You can tell she is not in a hurry to prove herself. She knows what’s coming, even when you don’t.
Kane’s lyrics, penned entirely by herself, are unapologetically honest. They allude to deep personal struggles, including her uncertain relationship with God and her past desire to escape the consuming atmosphere of Detroit. In “Have Mercy,” Kane grapples with conflicting feelings of melancholy and gratitude for her own success and privilege. While the subject matter of her songs is quite common, the universality of her sentiments viscerally connects you to Kane’s emotional experience. You suffer Kane’s sorrow just as you feel her joy at the culmination of the record.
The restrained use of the band also works to the benefit of the album, making the instrumentalists’ eventual entrances all the more arresting. “Slipping” and “Piano Song,” the recordings from the latter half of the Aviary: Act 1, include passionate, flashy vocals from Kane and feature her band more heavily. Kane ditches the contained, minimalist feeling of her prior songs, reaching new musical complexity in “Slipping.” The arrangement particularly takes off at 2:28 when a modulation sends Kane into the bridge of the song. This upward motion in pitch and energy allows Kane to wail at the end of “Slipping,” which she does again in the concluding moments of “Piano Song,” the last song on Aviary: Act I. She belts “Let me go” several times before the EP resolves on the soft fluttering of piano keys, indicating Kane’s ultimate escape from the aviary.
Throughout Kane’s journey across the EPs, she preserves constant control over her songs and vocals. Not only does Kane’s voice vaguely resemble the raspy tone of Alicia Keys’, but her understanding of how to construct forceful R&B tunes is at par with seasoned artists like Keys and Erykah Badu. Perhaps it is Kane’s self-assurance and particular attention to musical development that makes this thirty-six-minute time commitment a soaring success. Badu once said, “I’m free. I just do what I want, say what I want, say how I feel.” Kane tackles Aviary: Act I and Aviary: Act II in this manner, making her sureness in her writing and musical choices seem effortless.
Despite her newcomer status, Kane’s confidence is present in every facet of the record. She invites listeners to experience with her each emotional stage from confinement to uninhibited freedom. Kane’s music takes on a life of its own, leaving you eagerly awaiting her next flight.
Aviary: Act I and Aviary: Act II are available for listening on Spotify.