In the sphere of indie-rap, guitar-driven extraordinaries under the age of 25, 22-year-old alternative artist Spencer. is fairly high on this list. Since the rise of Steve Lacy in 2017, more Black artists have been cementing themselves as powerhouses in the indie/neo-soul genre in different ways, and Spencer.’s music is an offshoot of this growing genre of music.
His latest album, “Are U Down?,” combines moody and downtempo beats with lyrics that focus on himself and his relationship with isolation and women. It highlights his songwriting and arrangement skills and is a powerful addition to his discography.
An album about reflection can easily become self-centered or boring over time, but Spencer. does a great job of navigating this precarious tight walk. In “Lonely As I Ever Was” he sings “Lonely as I ever was/ You got a man, but I think/ Maybe if you let him go,” and this kind of unrequited love is a common theme in his lyrics and subject matter.
The drums and repeated chord progression allow his method to shine through proudly, and the simplicity allows his vocals and emotions to take precedence over production value or genre-bending ideas.
One of the best features comes in “After the Show” with Becky and the Birds. Her vocals sound like she’s floating on this track, which adds to the ethereal and otherworldly vibe of the track. The unwavering drums keep the song down to Earth, while Becky’s whistle tones feel like birds chanting to the sky. This song feels like Spencer.’s best D’Angelo impression, and the tightness of the drums and the feature follows a verse-chorus-verse format.
On “Heart Freestyle” he spends most of the song creating an atmosphere, and the random vocal chops and piano flourishes are very reminiscent of early 2000s R&B song structure. Spencer.’s percussion takes a page out of Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” with a heavy clave and snap that propels the beat forward.
“No Direction” features some of the most interesting guitar melodies in the entire album, and the beat switch 2 minutes in allows the instruments to build in a way that keeps the listener’s attention.
The filtered bass follows the guitar chords and allows both instruments to stand out in a pleasant and interesting way. As he sings “Lovin’ you, it feels like no direction,” he burrows himself in his youthful and impulsive inexperience toward love in the city.
At eleven songs and 32 minutes, this album is a short and effective listen which combines stylistic elements of jazz and R&B. Many albums in the era of streaming pad themselves with random interludes and unfinished songs that add nothing to the context of the album.
Spencer.’s “Are U Down” has none of the fluff that mainstream marketable albums possess. While some of the themes on this album may follow a rinse and repeat cycle, he is aware of his audience and how to stretch a theme to fit a certain song.
Spencer.’s rhythmically centered production allows him to hone his delivery, and the grooves on this project feel warm and fuzzy. Nothing on the album ever lingers for too long, which is a strength because it compels you just enough to listen to the next song. The best albums recognize what pocket they possess and utilize it to the best of their ability, and he recognizes this very well.
While his production will undoubtedly become more varied over time, this is a highlight for Spencer.’s songwriting and production skills. His fans will be singing these melodies for months to come, and his improvements are evident and strong. At 22 years old, he has so much room to grow, and “Are U Down” is a strong showing for his growth as a songwriter.