Samantha Urbani has a remarkable ability to create songs with impeccable production, unassailable pop structures, and countless quality hooks, all while writing lyrics that are meaningful and hit you right in the soul. Oh, and she’s a great singer.
The former Friends member and former sometimes Blood Orange (Dev Hynes) collaborator has created a showcase of all of the fine qualities mentioned above on her debut solo EP, Policies of Power, a collection of five previously released and new songs. Released on Aug. 18, the EP is available via Lucky Number Music Limited.
Urbani expresses herself through contemporary pop cuts laced with 1980s and 1990s pop and R&B, but in a tighter, defter way than her ilk. It’s a profoundly satisfying approach. The EP’s cuts exude elements of late ’80s Flyte Tyme (particularly Janet); early ’90s gated-snare heroes like Fine Young Cannibals and Go West; and even the late ’90s work of Max Martin.
(I have to mention this: Urbani told Bandcamp in an interview that “U Know I Know,” a cut on the EP she released originally on SoundCloud a few years ago, was influenced by UB40’s 1993 cover of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” The album that song is on, Promises and Lies, is one of my favorites.)
The masterpiece and most articulate demonstration of the musical ambition of Policies of Power is “Time Time Time.” At its foundation is a big rhythm section, replete with a massive, gated-reverb snare and a funky slap bass. Over that are colorful synths, searing guitars, meandering saxes, and when the gigantic chorus hits, good feelings. The vibe is often Go West’s “King of Wishful Thinking” meets Prince’s “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man,” with some Sade in the mix.
As if all of that weren’t enough, her powerful vocals — perhaps mezzo-soprano? — drive home something with which I often have trouble: being in the moment. As someone who’s generally obsessed with time in sometimes unhealthy ways, I find the lyrics vital.
On “Time,” the general subject matter appears to be about living in a particularly happy moment with a former partner and remembering that moment instead of dwelling on all of the things that poisoned a romantic bond. Nevertheless, the chorus, in particular, stands out, because I think it has a broad application:
I’m always gonna be in love with this/
No matter how far away the time gets/
I’m always gonna be in love with this moment/
Don’t care about time, time, time/
What is it?
By not caring about time, while also considering the cyclical nature of it, Urbani has been able to craft songs that are concurrently of specific times and beyond them. (The other songs on the EP, “Hints & Implications,” “1 2 3 4,” “U Know I Know,” and “Go Deeper,” are no less filled with remnants of pop trends past.)
I wonder, though, if we could take that even further. I’ve heard people say that nostalgia is a luxury — going back to “the way things were” isn’t something every group of people would necessarily welcome. However, there are bright points in the past that we can use to help inform us about how to make a better present and future.
Whether we’re talking about a society or just one person, it’s safe to say that getting stuck in the mire of the past is toxic, but erasure isn’t the answer either. Revisit and embrace a moment, and use it as fuel for reinvigoration; just don’t get lost in it for too long. I’m not sure if Urbani would go that far, but I think there’s something there.
Although Urbani worked on these songs with Sam Mehran and some other musicians, the songs are unquestionably hers. (I’ve thrown in all of those comparisons to musicians and songs of the past merely as guide posts.)
There’s no doubt that POP represents Urbani’s imbuing of herself into each atom of her work. She’s taken the sum of her experiences, observations, and meditations, and distilled them into memorable works of art.
May her use of catchy, nostalgia-dusted pop cuts as vehicles for her message always be a resounding success.
You can buy the EP in digital or vinyl form. If you want that physical copy, you’ll have to hurry, though. They’re going fast.