Brittany Howard’s What Now – A Tapestry of Sound and Soul – Album Review

Brittany Howard’s What Now emerges as a beacon of her artistic evolution, stepping beyond the confines of the Alabama Shakes’ soulful rock to embrace a kaleidoscope of musical genres. This album, Howard’s second solo venture, is an exploration that spans the realms of funk-rock, psychedelia, techno, soft jazz, and new age, each style seamlessly woven into a fabric that is as delicate as it is richly textured.

This transition from the “nakedly retro rock ‘n’ soul” of her previous band to a “gleefully eclectic” solo sound showcases Howard’s willingness to dive deep into the experimental, creating an album that demands immersion and rewards it with a multi-layered sonic experience.

Despite its broad musical landscape, What Now has drawn critique for what some perceive as a dip in the level of songwriting prowess demonstrated in Howard’s earlier works. Tracks like “Red Flags” exemplify Howard’s capacity for constructing compelling narratives around toxic relationships, set against a backdrop of circular melodies that build to a crescendo of intensity.

The album, characterized as a “vibes album,” shifts away from mainstream pop appeal, instead opting for a collage of experimental sounds that mirror the emotional turbulence of life during the pandemic. This thematic choice is palpable in songs like “I Don’t” and “Another Day,” which paint Howard’s reflections on laughter, love, and a yearning for the simplicity of a pre-pandemic world.

At the heart of What Now lies Howard’s vocal dynamism, an element that remains undiminished and indeed flourishes across the album’s tracks. From the commanding presence on the album’s title track to the multi-tracked harmonies that create an “ecstatic one-woman choir,” Howard’s voice stands out as the album’s most compelling instrument. “Samson” serves as a prime example of this, with Howard’s voice floating dreamily over soft keyboards, eventually making way for a mellow trumpet solo. This track, among others, encapsulates the enveloping nature of What Now, drawing listeners into a soundscape that is both mesmerizing and introspective.

What Now is not merely an album; it is a reflection of Brittany Howard’s journey through the complexities of musical innovation and personal exploration. The album’s foray into a diverse array of sounds and emotional themes offers a nuanced portrayal of Howard as an artist unafraid of venturing into uncharted territories. Through her experimentation with various genres, Howard confronts and navigates the intricacies of love, loss, and identity, presenting a narrative that is both personal and universally resonant.

The album’s brilliance lies in its ability to convey a sense of delicate complexity, inviting listeners to engage with its varied textures and profound themes. However, it also leaves a longing for more cohesive song structures that could further elevate the storytelling prowess Howard is known for. Despite this, What Now stands as a testament to Howard’s expansive sonic exploration and the depth of her artistic vision. It captures a moment in time for Howard, one marked by both reflection and experimentation, and in doing so, solidifies her position as a pivotal figure in contemporary music.

In essence, What Now by Brittany Howard is a multifaceted musical journey that encapsulates the evolution of one of the most dynamic voices in modern music. Through this album, Howard invites her audience into a realm of sonic exploration that defies easy categorization, crafting a narrative that is as compelling as it is complex. As listeners traverse the emotional and musical landscapes Howard has laid out, they are offered a glimpse into the soul of an artist who continues to push the boundaries of her creative expression.

James Ewen
Articles: 362