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Album Review: Boots, 'Aquaria'

by Theon Weber

Album Review: Boots, 'Aquaria'

About This Album

You've heard songs by Jordan Asher, the Floridian producer who goes by Boots: he had a hand in nine of the 14 tracks on Beyoncé's self-titled blockbuster, taking top billing in the credits for "Heaven," "Blue," and the brooding "Haunted." He also produced most of FKA twigs' M3LL155X EP. On his full-length solo debut, Boots builds out those projects' spacious, loamy R&B into 11 roiling tracks of clicks, skitters, groans and bursts of wobbling noise; in one instance it tears into the thicket of "Bombs Away".

Asher handles most of the vocals, and while his pinched drawl isn't exactly Beyoncé, his mixed-deep, half-spoken lyrics often become another tonality subsumed in the sound. (An exception is when Angel Deradoorian, who embarked on a solo career after leaving Dirty Projectors, buffs the ominous title track's sour, lurching melody with a few expert croons and coos; when she's gone, you miss her.)

Aquaria’s sound is dense, dark, and vigorous, much of it -- the boastful "C.U.R.E.," "Dead Come Running," or the short, stomping "Gallows" -- is closer to the harsh energy of Shabazz Palaces than the creamy, nocturnal R&B Boots serves his collaborators. ("Earthquake," rumbling and buzzing beneath Asher's flitting falsetto, even gives off a whiff of recent Radiohead.)

This willingness to push deeper into Boots' thick and jumpy sound is what keeps the album from sounding like a mere portfolio, a demonstration of what Boots can do for other artists. It's a genuine solo record, one that explores and refines a new version of his dramatic pop/R&B. (On the gently muscular closing ballad "Still," which sounds like an off-kilter Coldplay track, Asher writes a song for which his thin croak is just right.) In spite of Boots' development, and also because of it, one of the things you’ll wonder about while listening to Aquaria is how good the next FKA twigs album could be.

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