Seinabo Sey instantly appears as a force to be reckoned with. Citing Alicia Keys and Beyoncé as her inspirations, her voice is as big as her ambition and drive. This is easily shown by her early choice to complete a degree in soul music. She is one of the fastest rising stars from Scandinavia and is marking her two-year hibernation after her début album Pretend, with her newest album I’M A Dream. Combining her mixed Gambian heritage with her music it is clear that she is using her platform to create her own path on her terms.
Her latest album conveys a woman who knows her own mind and mirrors the growth she has undertaken since her last star-studded album. As an artist, Sey could be seen as actively challenging the difficulties of the arguably ‘white male’ dominated music industry through her music, and therefore empowering women by doing so. MTV agrees as they describe the song ‘Breathe’ as a “stunning track about what it means to be a black woman in white spaces”. On paper, it suggests that her work should be near perfection because she is clearly aiming to break some boundaries with her art. Her newest collection of songs has set high expectations with The Guardian, who also backs up Sey’s latest offering by adding “She owes us nothing but gives us loads”.
The songs featuring on the album include: ‘Breathe’, ‘Good In You’, ‘Hakim ’, ‘Hold Me As I Land’, ‘I Love You’, ‘I Owe You Nothing’, ‘My Eye’, ‘Never Get Used To’, ‘Remember ft Jacob Banks’ and ‘Truth’.
‘Breathe’ is a strong and powerful track. Her prowess as a songwriter shines throughout the album. The lyrics “When the going gets tough, don’t forget to breathe” are particularly poignant, as it is a thought that many of us should remember. It is topped off with a haunting melody and excellent vocals from Sey.
However, after this track is where some cracks sadly begin to appear in the album. ‘Good In You’ contains an overly electronic beat which is too strong. It almost succeeds in detracting attention from her clearly talented vocals. This is a shame because more often than not, artists use a high amount of electronics to cover up their lack of singing ability. It is unnecessary for Sey’s skill and gives off a rushed and unfinished feeling to the album. The following tracks ‘Hold Me As I Land’, ‘I Love You’, ‘I Owe You Nothing’ and ‘My Eye’, all continue the heavy-handed electronic approach, which leaves this collection of songs less than polished.
However, the lyrics within these songs do offer some strong contenders for redemption. ‘I Love You’ features the sweet, romantic words of “Cause if you love somebody, set them free/ So here are your wings, my baby”. Furthermore, in the sassy, feminist anthem ‘I Owe You Nothing’ we discover a nice premise with lyrics such as “ I be myself and I ain’t fronting” and “I don’t have to dance, monkey dance”. The vocals may be pushed back, but even this can’t dilute the crux of Sey’s presence of encouraging strong, independent women with a feel-good vibe.
Apart from “Breathe” the remaining songs are the real gems of the album. ‘Never Get Used To’ features an electronic mix works which work better than others on the album leaving it to feel more finished. Furthermore, it contains some lovely relatable lyrics of a narrator who will look “round for you at every corner”. It is part of a wistful nostalgia of a lost part in someone’s life. A standout track for sure. ‘Remember’ featuring Jacob Banks is a perfect pairing of voices. It is very impactful as it does showcase electronic features but similar to “Never Get Used To’ achieves the balance of not being too overpowering. Furthermore, the lyrics are a medley of powerful biblical imagery such as “Split me an ocean, “Show me a God that I can believe in” and “Walk on water”. These lyrics are beautifully mixed in with the slower rhythm with the piano create a more subtle, powerful approach which allows Sey to really flourish.
‘Truth’ opens with “This shit ain’t a lie, you love or you die”. It is repetitive and slightly questionable as it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the song, as similarly to ‘Remember’ features a slower piano. Despite the start, it seems to work better and feels more finished compared to other songs on the album. The lyrics “And now I’m dancing in the rain and I can’t feel the pain” offer a sense of closure and new found freedom, which again work with the core of Sey’s art.
Overall despite deserving global acclaim for attempting to bring the topical issues of body positivity and identity to the spotlight, the album itself is sadly a little lacklustre in places. Sey’s previous album was hailed “One of the Year’s Best Debut Albums” by TIME magazine and was even certified Gold in Sweden. The sophomore album is notoriously tricky and Sey manages to make a decent effort. However, it is more impressive for the sentiment of the lyrics than the over-electronic elements which detract from her vocals. It is definitely more dreamy than nightmare-ish, but sadly it can’t help but give a slightly unfinished impression. It is by no means a terrible release. However, it could’ve reached an even greater potential. Nonetheless, other artists and listeners alike will be keen to see what Sey does next, especially to see what risks she may undertake in completing her next album.
Be sure to listen to the album yourself – I’M A Dream by Seinabo Sey is out now.
Review by Camilla Whitfield