Snoh Aalegra takes on a Wave of Color + Emotion with ‘Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies’
Evan Dale // July 11, 2021
Look back, and there’s a lot to romanticize about the Summer of 2019. There were Summer days with friends, perhaps Summer nights with perhaps more than friends, and of course, Snoh Aalegra’s album filled with lovebird anthems: -Ugh, those feels again. A soundtrack for the rosy days we were then ignorant to fully embrace, it still stands as a quintessential exploration of the love-strewn yet modern R&B cloth. But, ‘they are not long, the days of wine and roses.’ Though catapulting Snoh’s already rising path towards a trajectory as one of the most sought-after soulstresses in all of modern music, all the while curating one of the most unique and necessary projects for the sensual and for the sensitive, things would change for the world in 2020. One year after its release, our daily lives had been relegated to the indoors – or at least to the solitarily introspective – chained by the pain and lonely consequences of an unforeseen pandemic, the dichotomy that existence shared with a continued fight alongside those around us in the name of racial and civil justices, and the all-encompassing web of adversity that the year came to be. There was undoubtedly still an unending pool of emotion – of feels – to drown ourselves in through the wavering soul of Snoh’s sophomore collection, but all of us were left changed to some extent by the year that was, and we needed something new. It seems that Snoh was changed, too, and her new album is a path forward for R&B; for everyone looking for new music to soundtrack a new spectrum of Summertime emotions.
In 2021 – two years removed from -Ugh, those feels again, and one step closer to the relative normality the R&B world overlooked when it was released – the emerging queen of Neo-Soul is back with a new album, and a new swatch of moods and vibes to explore. From the title itself and all the way through its complex, inventive, explorative, and ultimately different auditory aesthetic, Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies is the raw kind of project that relates to anyone dealing with any kind of pain, or going through any kind of change, making it a stark reversal from the lovestruck texture of her prior collection. It’s audacious, bold, and edging more towards self-love than an obsessive dive into the love for another.
For Snoh Aalegra, it always starts with the heart, the keystrokes, and the bass. Distorted vocals spewing poetic stanzas provoking a listener’s thought merge with underwater synth strokes, and some signature bass to open a different kind of album for a different kind of Snoh. And just who is this different Snoh Aalegra? Listen and you’ll find out. She’s nothing if not an open book, and unendingly open to pushing new creative boundaries. From beginning to end, Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies is more than just another new album from one of R&B’s most signature contemporary names; it’s a reinvention of self – and a self-renaissance through new, and increasingly defiant R&B.
Rising from the electronically nuanced foundations that she’s been exploring in singles since the ending of her much more instrumentally informed -Ugh, those feels again chapter that bled with piano keystrokes and backing choirs, here there are a plethora of technical risks successfully taken ranging from vocal distortion (Indecisive + Save Yourself) and hip-hop adlibs (In Your Eyes) to 90’s reminiscent synth production (Neon Peach). In accompaniment of idyllically soloist explorations like We Don’t Have To Talk About It, Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies emerges as a more well-rounded, less structurally adherent exhibition of her range than her already rangy prior work. And in that, the project seems more honest to herself as a necessary proponent of a new evolution – maybe even a revolution – in R&B music.
Out with the classically lovey anthems, in with the ‘fuck you, I’m better off without’ mentality. Love, to Snoh and as the title would suggest, is nothing if not a poignantly temporary high. Someone – perhaps some ones – hurt her, or she’s at least channeling the powerful no-relationship-at-the-moment vibes throughout the project. Perseverance and prevailing artistry are always a good combination, so using her creative ingenuity to turn that seeming pain into an album is really the kind of comeback energy the world needs right now. And her ability to couple that energy with an explosively inventive underline of production that is ultimately a continuation of the experimental lane she’s always travelled, makes the project one that only becomes better with more listens. And firstly, due to the immense depth put into the many layers of the project’s flow and every-minute composition, it’s key to take into consideration just how it is that a listener is listening to the project – or what kind of speakers and headphones they’re using to do so.
Eternally a composer of the retrofuturistic R&B lane, Snoh Aalegra’s is a sound defined by a well-curated balance between a timelessly wide-ranging register, an affinity for the kind of synth strokes and playful keys that have long defined the light-hearted nature of R&B music, and the bass-strewn modern production that brings to mind a wave of particularly retro-modernist Neo-Soul architects and their accompanying instrumentation spanning names from DVSN to Devin Morrison. Hers, too, is a key moniker in the same prestigious modern R&B royalty and Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies is the deep kind of work that’s symphonic intricacies call for some proper auditory prowess. From there, as long as a listener is really dedicating themselves to listening to the layers, and relating to the emotion, Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies is yet another classic R&B album from Snoh Aalegra. And yet, it’s another hard-nosed removal from expectations of her own sound or those of R&B at a macro scale.
There are, of course, the hits – the bangers – that Snoh has always delivered. Taste is the kind of one-night-stand anthem that those newly emerged singles need; Violet Skies feels as though it could have highlighted any of her prior projects; Neon Peach pulls her into a more hip-hop centric space next to Tyler, The Creator while In The Moment pulls Tyler more in her direction; and In Your Eyes - produced by The Neptunes - is perhaps the most addicting R&B song of the year, coming into focus alongside VanJess and Joyce Wrice who, too, are reinventing the scene and the sound.
With each passing listen to a given track or the project at large, Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies becomes even a little more nuanced and necessary. It’s deep. It’s intricate. And ultimately – like the daunting cinematic experience that it plays out as – it’s a bold vision for the electro-soul future that only an R&B queen like Snoh Aalegra could so seamlessly and addictingly pull off.