Virtually instantly after Alabama Shakes broke by way of with tasteful retro-soul fashion, Brittany Howard pushed again in opposition to categorization. Her band’s Grammy-winning 2015 document, Sound & Colour, borrowed from touchstones as far-reaching as Y2K post-punk, Erykah Badu, and Portishead, nevertheless it was Howard’s 2019 debut solo album, Jaime, the place her experimentation really blossomed. Its sound gravitated between quiet torch songs and raucous declarations that combined funk-rock with electronica, sure by startling lyrics mined from Howard’s biography. What Now, recorded through the pandemic in Shawn Everett’s studio, is a distinct beast. Its subject material is extra gestural and existential—a love gone mistaken, a name for peace, a bout of despair within the close to future. It feels each looser and brawnier, a sound nerd’s mission with stadium-sized panache and a grab-bag strategy.
What Now opens calmly sufficient, with crystal singing bowls and some tentative piano chords and cymbal hits, as Howard narrates her trepidation. “However will I do know?/Will I really feel it?/The primary second that I see it?” she sings, her voice layered over itself in a blanketing echo. Then, with a whirling synth and explosion of drums, she’s off, blasting by way of the ambiance, whizzing previous soul, blues, funk, jazz, psychedelia, and home music. If Howard’s lyrics make it seem to be she’s nonetheless working by way of issues, her music seems like she’s bought all of it discovered. Each tune right here, even the gradual stuff, feels big and propulsive—a grand celestial tour of rock and R&B, guided by one of many few singers and multi-instrumentalists with the vary and instinct to drag it off.
Howard is studied within the Stevie Marvel faculty of pulling a groove out of absolutely anything, thanks partly to her rhythm part right here, drum virtuoso Nate Smith and versatile Alabama Shakes bassist Zac Cockrell. “I Don’t” builds round a melancholy chipmunk-soul hook within the vein of Cam’ron; “Persistence” morphs from a bog-standard gradual jam into a stunning showcase of warped keyboard results; not less than one tune options Howard banging on a trash can. There’s the muscular, hermetic funk-rock of the title observe, the frenetic boxed-in percussion of “Crimson Flags,” and an enormous swing at home music on “Show It to You.” But a few of the album’s most impressed selections haven’t any rhythm in any respect. Between almost each observe, the singing bowls return, performed by sound bathtub practitioners Ann Sensing and Ramona Reid, offering a quick respite and sealing What Now collectively like religious glue.