Review: Syd’s 'Broken Hearts Club' lacks her usual unique identity
While Syd cultivates a constantly chill atmosphere on her second album, it lacks the substance of her previous release.
Since the days of her association with the now-revered hip-hop supergroup Odd Future, Sydney Bennett, otherwise known as Syd, has distinguished herself as a leading voice in the alternative R&B genre. Her work with The Internet — a band that also includes respected singer and guitarist Steve Lacy — has produced two critically acclaimed albums: 2015’s “Ego Death” and 2018’s “Hive Mind.” In 2017, Syd extended this success to her solo work, releasing her debut album “Fin.” “Broken Hearts Club,” Syd’s most recent album, was announced in March following almost five years of virtual solo silence.
When I first heard “Fin” a few years ago, I was instantly mesmerized by its musical power. The infinitely relaxed harmonies of Syd’s group recordings persisted onto the project; cool guitar riffs, soft drums and Syd’s mellow vocals made it the perfect soundtrack for a smooth Sunday car ride. Yet the element of “Fin” that truly blew me away was how Syd — in the vein of neo-soul greats like Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill before her — coupled this chill vibe with a highly personal and sentimental musical commentary, in which Syd shared her thoughts on friendship, love and sexuality. The maturity of her debut album was in large part why I was excited to listen to “Broken Hearts Club.”
Without a doubt, “Broken Hearts Club” retains many of the musical qualities I admired on “Fin.” Just like on its predecessor, the songs on this album feel like they were ready-made for relaxation. With her sophomore effort, however, I am left feeling as though Syd lacks the punch she so effectively displayed on her debut.
The eighties-tinted guitar riffs and slow drums of “CYBAH”— the album’s opening track — sounds like the musical embodiment of flowing water, and both Syd’s and guest Lucky Daye’s quiet singing convey an impressive vocal range without ever disturbing the nonchalance of the track. The rest of the album maintains this groovy, lo-fi atmosphere. “Fast Car,” another personal highlight from the project, impressively manages to feel both calm and upbeat simultaneously. The shredding guitar riffs and fast-paced drum beat — which sound as though they were ripped from a synthpop anthem — are masterfully counterbalanced by a contemplative piano melody as Syd sings about the joys of being in love.
“BMHWDY” — an acronym for “Break My Heart Why Don’t You” — stands as yet another repackaging of the album’s constantly relaxed ambiance. The guitars on the track are slower and more mellow — and their pairing with the track’s drums reminded me of a lo-fi hip-hop beat. Still, Syd’s soft vocals complement the instrumental perfectly in order to keep the listener feeling at peace, yet again. In many ways, “Broken Hearts Club” seems to show that Syd is following in the footsteps of pop contemporaries like The Weeknd and Charli XCX by adding a slightly more retro, synth-heavy aesthetic to her sound’s existing foundations.
Even in this regard, however, Syd sometimes falls short. While the tracks I have highlighted strike that balance between catchy and chill that keeps listeners engaged, other songs on the album fall into a generic profile of lo-fi R&B sound that make them underwhelming. The tracks “Control” and “Getting Late” are entirely forgettable, with Syd’s voice drowning in the formulaic instrumentals instead of building off of them. Unfortunately, this also extends to the final track “Missing Out,” which features perhaps the most boring instrumental on the album: a redundant drum and synth pattern that tires after the first 30 seconds. On this track, Syd’s passionate vocals feel as though they are trying to salvage it from its instrumental weakness.
Beyond this, though, I think the ultimate pitfall of “Broken Hearts Club” is that it lacks the depth
that allowed Syd’s “Fin” to emerge as a truly powerful project. The strongest — and perhaps most surprising — example of this comes in “Right Track,” featuring St. Louis rapper Smino, who has made a name for himself in hip-hop through his thoughtful, creative lyrics. In my opinion, the true disappointment of “Right Track” is that it has every component it needs to be a successful song. The effusive Spanish guitar beat grabbed my attention instantly, yet neither Syd nor Smino feels as though they have anything substantive to say on this track — its two-and-a-half minute duration instead flies by without a single lyric of note being espoused. On “Heartfelt Freestyle,” whose title seems to hint at thematic depth, Syd once again disappoints in this regard. Her lyrics remain at the surface level, coming off as a fragmented and largely incoherent expression of her attraction to her partner.
There is no doubt in my mind that these tracks are pleasant to listen to, just like most of the album. Unfortunately, however, they represent what I view as the chronic flaw of “Broken Hearts Club.” Whereas the songs on “Fin” were often equal parts fun and deeply beautiful, “Broken Hearts Club” misses out on the latter dimension. The album leaves us with a decent amount to feel, but comparatively little to think about once we are done. For me, the regrettable effect of this is that it keeps “Broken Hearts Club” from having the unique identity I recognized on her debut album. With her next release, I am left to hope that Syd can return to grasping at more.