East London singer-songwriter and record producer, Nao, released her third studio album "And Then Life Was Beautiful" on Sept. 24, and it's a truly beautiful sentiment to the ups and downs of modern love, healing from pain and an inspiring journey to self-actualization.
Three years after her most recent album, "Saturn," Nao has returned after a creative dry spell — she attests its end to the birth of her daughter that reignited her passion and reimagined her perspective on the beauty in her life.
“Getting back to music after giving birth was so healing. I loved that I had something to focus on … It lit a fire in me," the singer said in a recent interview with The Independent.
Nao’s newfound desire to share her healing process through her music manifests in her voice. Her voice has an irresistibly weightless quality that's airy, ethereal and otherworldly. Even in her darkest moments in conversations of strife on the album, her voice radiates on each track delivering a compellingly uplifting position on her hardships and healing processes.
The album's sound is dreamlike and euphoric, perfectly blending with her voice without losing the individual impact from either part. Her voice synthesized with the production works together to answer the album’s query in the opening track, “And Then Life Was Beautiful,” where she asks, “How to float when there’s no control?”
The album deviates from her trademarked “wonky funk” style from her debut album "For All We Know," and her synth-heavy record, "Saturn," by strategically deconstructing elements of her previous works and elevating them with her new found creativity. Live arrangements are highlighted on this album, giving each track a deeply organic feel.
The album’s producers, including longtime collaborators like LOXE and GRADES, broaden the scope of Nao’s past discography, creating Afrobeats, gospel influences and hints of '90s rhythm and blues to create a fresh atmosphere with the combination of electric guitar, piano and delicate electronics.
Each track on the project is masterfully created and performed with authenticity and powerful notions of self-actualization. On “Messy Love,” Nao realizes that her current relationship is not good for her as she sings, “No one wants post-love/That messy kind of love, love/ … I can’t be persuaded to open out/… I’m saying goodbye, I'm saying goodbye/I won’t even change my mind.”
Followed by “Glad That You’re Gone,” Nao can barely contain her excitement to be leaving her soon-to-be ex as she sings, “Can't help feeling that I'm glad that you're gone/Got my mouth grinning and I know that it's wrong/I can't help smiling either way/You've bounced, it's blessed, I'm celebrating.”
These back-to-back tracks are inspiring and show her genuine relief for moving on, both in her relationships with her partner and with herself.
This theme is also seen on “Good Luck,” which features Lucky Daye, where she discusses her transformative fearlessness to eradicate her selflessness, and finally begins to transfer some of the energy she has put into others into herself.
Another standout track, “Little Giants,” ends with a spoken-word verse from Nao where she beautifully captures the intention of the album: “Reimagine your veil as lessons and lift it from your lips/The world can still be as beautiful as you hoped as a kid,” sings Nao. “Even when winter revolves around us, summer is not dead/It hasn't been defeated, the change isn't the end/The next season waits for you to pick up your pen/And write yourself into remembering that life is beautiful.”
In addition to the aforementioned tracks, Nao’s light shines through on “Postcards” featuring serpentwithfeet, “Antidote” featuring Adekunle Gold and “Burn Out,” where she perfectly articulates the feelings of exhaustion and wanting to give up that many of us have experienced.
The album’s conclusion, “Amazing Grace,” encapsulates her transcendence from her fear of failure and her realization that she is safe and content with her choices as she is ultimately able to save herself.
Her lyricism is introspective and alluring, creating a masterpiece of an album that shines through the bleak times we have universally experienced in the last few years. Her pleasures and pain are in continuous conversation with each other.
Nao paints a complex portrait of salvaging her energy from her bad times, and taking a step back to appreciate the good times. Her creative energy is renewed and her emotional impact in her lyricism and musical range is expanded.
Overall, it seems as though Nao has reinvented herself and her approach to life, as she takes one step at a time toward her own definition of harmonious self-actualization.