“R&B is dead.” This statement keeps ringing in people’s mouths, but I think it can’t be further from the truth. Maybe the days of what I would call “Ringtone R&B” are over, where, instead of rappers, everyone looked up to bare-chested singers dressed in all white.
We are in a new phase of R&B, where experimentalism and innovation are in vogue. A great example of this is Lando Chill’s collaboration with producer Lasso, māyā. maia. mayu — one of the smoothest records I’ve heard this year.
Lando Chill is an R&B artist who is described on his website as, “a warrior-poet, a man with one ear to mother nature and one to the people.” While this is an exceptionally self-serving description, it isn’t far from the truth. Lando’s sound is sweet, soulful and frank.
On this project, Lando belts out notes in a constrained but powerful manner. His voice is somewhere between Daniel Caesar and James Blake, high but controlled. He reminds me most of an equally unknown rapper, Zeroh, who, instead of singing, just uses his voice to croon out lyrics.
Lando isn’t so much a singer as he is a wordsmith that uses a hazy delivery and some talent to create an atmosphere.
The lyrics on this project bounce between poetic, figurative verses and simple, expressive hooks. It doesn’t matter what Lando is saying as much as how he says it. His delivery of lines that rhyme in unexpected ways make this project a fun listen. The belting out of “stupid is as stupid does,” on “Golden,” the intro track, is so forceful that it’s hard to not get surprised.
The best track on this project is “wonderus,” which begins with a slow, rising progression. Suddenly there is a harsh beat switch where the hazy production is joined by this bouncy, groovy bass line and a simple but catchy plinking melody. Here, Lasso and Lando are at their collaborative peak.
The way that Lando plays off of the beat is impressive. His runs work perfectly parallel to the melody of the beat, which hovers in his register.
The lyrics are somehow both abstract and easily comprehensible. The concept is hazy, but the feeling is pure.
“fck w/ me” is another great song, with a tinkling piano above a pulsating harmonic soundscape that explodes into instrumental runs on a dime. It feels like a piece of smooth self-affirmation, while also having this supporting confidence.
“sad luv” is probably the most anthemic song on this album, with a sweet simple hook of “Sad love, oh sad love / That don’t make it bad enough.” The guitar deep in the mix adds this rhythmic complexity that changes the direction of the track completely. There is this swing to this song that feels driven and powerful.
The production on this project is smooth, sweeping and twinkly. Lasso creates a flood of synths and samples atop groovy bases and bouncy drums for Lando to perform on. The music is simple but perfect for an artist who is as dynamic and powerful as Lando.
However, there are a few times when the production gets too hazy and soft. Lasso loves to use these pads and leads that create a wash of sound.
While this works to emphasize Lando’s great voice, it does weaken the songwriting. It can be hard to catch onto a groove when the background is just a flood of sprinkling sound.
Most exemplary of this is the album’s title track, “māyā,” where the beat is just a loop with very little melodic content.
I wish that Lasso pushed the beats and grooves more — especially since Lando has such a talent for riding complex patterns — rather than trying to create this flat, sonic landscape.
It also sometimes feels like Lando can fall into a songwriting ditch, using the same kinds of structures in his songs. Every hook seems to just be him harmonizing with another voice, belting out the same lines — which are usually the titles of the song.
It is hard to criticize an artist who is so early in his development for such minor things, especially when he takes such serious risks throughout the project.
māyā. maia. mayu is a great album by a great artist who deserves more listeners. His work here is interesting, fun, unique and beautiful. If you don’t like this project, it cannot be for lack of inspiration. This EP feels like a successful exploration of a novel sound and style. With this much potential, I am eager to see where Lando will go next.