On ‘Lost & Found’ Jorja Smith’s grief produces beautiful art

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Score: 4.0/5.0

Jorja Smith’s debut album Lost & Found is an intensely personal, poignant debut that executes on its lucid songwriting and diverse production. Backed by Smith’s powerful voice, the project’s amalgamated genres are connected by a common backdrop of heartbreak, proving her ability to create cohesive yet multifaceted art.

A rising star in British R&B, 21-year-old Smith has shown a knack for creating music, both on her own and in collaborations with high-profile artists. Her appearances on Drake’s mixtape More Life (on songs “Jorja Interlude” and “Get It Together”), Kali Uchis’ debut Isolation (on lead single “Tyrant”) and the Kendrick Lamar-curated Black Panther: The Album (on “I Am”) have been the highlights of these projects.

As each episode of Donald Glover’s hit TV series “Atlanta” feels like a stand-alone film that fits into an overall theme, each song on Lost & Found sounds like it comes from a different part of Smith’s romantic despair and subsequent growth. From more upbeat, self-realized tracks such as “Where Did I Go?” wherein Smith seems determined to let go of her past lover, to downtempo ballads such as “Goodbyes” that cathartically embrace her pain, Lost & Found showcases its author’s incredible range.

Lost & Found has all the makings of a fantastic first album. Smith displays her amazing ear for beats, choosing instrumentals that vary from the traditional R&B vibe of the opening title track to the drum and piano-led trip-hop backing of “Teenage Fantasy” to the boom-bap of her hip-hop detour in the songs “Blue Lights” and “Lifeboats (Freestyle).” The album’s three closing tracks are tear-jerking minimalist ballads that rip Smith’s heart out and put it on display.

Smith’s songwriting is a highlight throughout the project. On the opening title track, the chorus “Why do we all fall down with innocence still on the ground? / Why do we all fall down and apart on the lost and found?” juxtaposed with a sunny melody and delivery emphasizes her self-awareness in the context of her failed love. The standout single “Teenage Fantasy” sees Smith employ a conversational delivery in the lines “You were the topic of my lunch times / I’d bore the girls about our chats / And get upset when you didn’t text back.” This adds to the lucidity of the pain she conveys throughout the record. The pensive, meditative “Blue Lights” contains the clever punchline “Not long ago you were miming to the ‘Shook Ones’ / Now this really is part two ’cause you’re the shook one,” which manages to briefly cut through the song’s tension while maintaining its overall somber tone.

Despite the consistently high quality of this record, some songs and moments on it seem to drag on, becoming monotonous. After a beautifully somber “February 3rd,” the song “On Your Own” repeats the refrain “Take it all / On your own tonight / You’re all alone tonight / Wasted it all” a few times too many. Further in the tracklist, the confessional “Wandering Romance” culminates in a great beat drop but takes too long to build up to its climax.

Additionally Lost & Found lacks a radio smash-hit in the vein of Smith’s collaborative effort with British grime producer Preditah, “On My Mind.” Although Smith had been co-signed by artists such as Drake well before the release of this single, it was not until this came out in August 2017 that she received attention from the music industry and the public at large. “On My Mind” features subject matter similar to — yet more light-hearted than — that found throughout Lost & Found, but its bouncy beat and distorted vocals make it a more rewarding, replayable listen than some of the songs on her debut.

Smith’s debut album is an excellent breakup record that exhibits her boundless talent and potential. The combination of her musical experimentation, her brilliant voice and her exemplary songwriting makes for a telling statement of what is to come from this precocious artist. Despite the dearth of radio-friendly, upbeat songs, Lost & Found proves a rewarding listen for those who relate to its author’s throes of heartbreak.

Contact Justin Sidhu at [email protected].