Fashionably Late: Kyle Dion's SUGA
Evan Dale // Dec 21, 2019
It feels like Kyle Dion has been around for decades. Maybe it’s because he looks like Prince. Maybe it’s because his range sounds like a confluence of soul and R&B greats from Marvin to Michael to The Weeknd and back again. Maybe it’s because he has truly been an influential figment in the then emerging instrumentally founded Neo-Soul scene since Get You Alone & Painting Sounds were droppednearly half-a-decade ago. But, regardless of the reasons for his knack at defying time, 2019 has been his year.
Kyle Dion’s true breakout happened this year and its roots draw back to last. Spend It, now included in sophomore project, SUGA along with the three singles that followed – Not All the Way, Brown, & Glass House – all helped to define a sound as refined as it is unique, while also uniquely defining of Neo-Soul and R&B music at a macro scale. Brown in particular has become a 2019 staple of any playlist circling the ideas of Neo-Soul, of instrumental R&B, and of sexy-time anthems. Rounded out by the addition of SUGA’s dozen other tracks, the project, too, plays those parts.
And even though rooted in those roles, it’s remarkably wide-ranging. And why shouldn’t it be? Kyle Dion’s affinity for instrumentation in collaboration with his unfairly emotive and sensual vocal delivery makes him a natural force of transcending preconceived notions of genre, style, and their relationship with time. As attached to Neo-Soul and R&B as Kyle Dion’s sound naturally is, SUGA is a thesis on a great vocalist’s ability to freely maneuver the tricky world of labeling. If anything, he’s the more sensually driven counterpart to Steve Lacy’s summery pop retro-funk. And that essentially leaves him only defined by his own sounds and not by those of others.
In that frame of mind, the album becomes an instant classic. There isn’t really anything that sounds like it. And that’s simply because no one is capable of sounding like Kyle Dion. With a falsetto as crystalline as The Weeknd’s when he was still making good music; with the writing ability that made Motown the untouchable era that it was; Kyle Dion effortlessly exudes emotion and sex through poeticism and penmanship whilst balancing it all with funky basslines, wavy keystrokes, and a punchy guitar. Through SUGA he proves that aside from some especially raunchy lyricism the world wasn’t yet ready for, his sound is one that is undefined by the boundary of time. It could have come out ’69, ’79, ’89, ’99 or ’09. But thankfully, it came in ’19 – a year marked in large part thanks to Kyle Dion’s influence, by Neo-Soul’s explosion into the mainstream. And in a year prepared for the unapologetic sexuality of R&B merged with the raw imperfectionism of organic instrumentation in Neo-Soul, Kyle Dion himself has become an instant classic.
Regardless of the frame of influence one cares to gauge it by:
The untouchable emotion Kyle Dion’s capable of embodying in the explosive vocal breakdowns of Cherry Blossom.
The mainstream introduction of the modernist Neo-Soul aesthetic with the anthemic reach of Brown.
The number of children conceived to the tune of Teach Me.
SUGA is iconic.
It’s a blueprint on how to be so different, so untouchable, and so non-replicable that it can’t ever truly be a blueprint at all. Instead, it’s the kind of ceiling one can’t ever aim for in exactitude but can only be inspired by and learned from. The entire thing is a lesson on vocalism, sure. Kyle Dion is a master of range and control. But he’s also the product of taking risks in his range so brash through his career, that he’s made them successful and desirable in 2019. 2015 single, Get You Alone exhibited what was still an insane voice, but it’s balance with the rest of his sound wasn’t yet unearthed.
In 2019, when the instrumentation of Neo-Soul has separated itself from R&B, Kyle Dion shines under the same light that has shone on the history’s greatest voices and their skill at weaving in and out the irreplaceable texture of true instrumentation. And be that truly the definition of a Neo-Soul star, Kyle Dion is surely that.
But, he’s more.
He’s a glimpse into the possibilities through all of music, so wildly talented that he isn’t defined by a particular sound, but inventive and influential on any lane that any artist wishes to pursue in 2019. And SUGA is his first masterpiece.