From the moment it opens, with deep, slowly shifting beats that make you feel like you're bobbing in gently rolling waves, and you float upwards into the bubbly world of Ikarus, Ladi6's new album is a sonic-stunner.
The beats are crafted with impeccable taste, somehow both inventively crunchy and raw, and like a beautiful tonic for your ears in the same instant. They weave seamlessly with Ladi's distinctive voice, somehow bringing out the soul queen, the vulnerable world-weary woman, the fierce citizen. But mostly they create an audio landscape to sink into and get lost.
"We can get high, you can get lost, into my arms, as I enclose you" she sings on the first album single Ikarus, making you feel warm and weightless.
Produced by Parks (Brent Park, Ladi's partner) and Detroit-based beat-maker/producer Waajeed (a friend of J Dilla), there's an ear-turning diversity in the beats, which benefit from multiple listens, and yet a cohesion in the palette of sounds - spacey synths, deep bass pulses, soft cymbals - and their use of space. Similarly, the lyrics range in subject matter, but keep a theme of strength and survival throughout.
There's no rapping from Ladi on her third album, but she has rising Detroit star Invincible feature on Slow Ride, and cousin Scribe on Ready To Fly, and there are plenty of hip-hop inflections in the production, making it one of the best hip-hop sounding albums of this year so far.
Slow Ride, in particular, stands out, sounding like a perfect sonic representation of a night-time drive in Detroit, all winding, cascading electronic organ sounds and jittery cymbals and sharp drums.
As Ladi sings "The world outside needs somebody to defend it" on the next track, Burnin', you can hear the impact of spending time in the now-struggling home of Motown.
That's not to say this is a downer album by any stretch, though. Diamonds will be a great summer jam, with its doo-wop swing, and the brilliant chorus hook of "Here I stay in the gutter, ch-churning butter into diamonds". It might be a song about being broke, but it's irrepressibly hopeful.
Shine On is another gem, a beautiful showcase of her soulful croon - how you might expect a mature R&B lullaby to sound - and the righteous title track is full of Motown diva attitude.
We should applaud Parks and Waajeed for keeping her voice front and centre and leaving it stripped back enough to hear all the inflections and timbres that Ladi is able to bring, whether that be warm and silky, or hard and indignant.
It might not have the immediate pop hooks of The Liberation Of . . . , but with its innovative beats and often ingenious vocals, Automatic is her best album yet.
Verdict: Her best yet
Click here to buy Automatic by Ladi6.
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