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Amerie - 4AM Mulholland EP & After 4AM EP Music Albums Reviews

Amerie - 4AM Mulholland EP Music Album Reviews
Amerie - After 4AM EP Music Album Reviews

On these two EPs, the R&B singer doesn’t simply revive her hit-making approach from the early 2000s; she uses her powerful voice to make the sounds of the moment her own.

Stung by file-sharing losses and the decline of physical retail, major labels at the end of the last decade tended to leave artists hanging. New stars were stranded in the purgatories of endless album delays, stalled singles, and fizzled publicity campaigns, their futures suspended in contractual limbo. One of the most frustrating examples was R&B belter Amerie, a D.C. singer whose go-go-rooted 2005 single “1 Thing” climbed to the top 10 of both Billboard and The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop poll. Despite killer singles like the raucous “Gotta Work,” her follow-up, Because I Love It, was delayed and largely waylaid by Columbia, who soon dropped her. After releasing In Love & War on Island Def Jam in 2009, Amerie left music for a while. She launched the lifestyle vlog Books Beauty Ameriie and edited a young-adult anthology of fractured fairy-tales. She released the occasional EP and single, but she seemed more focused on books, her clothing line, and the birth of her first daughter. Could you blame her?

On these two EPs, the R&B singer doesn’t simply revive her hit-making approach from the early 2000s; she uses her powerful voice to make the sounds of the moment her own.

Stung by file-sharing losses and the decline of physical retail, major labels at the end of the last decade tended to leave artists hanging. New stars were stranded in the purgatories of endless album delays, stalled singles, and fizzled publicity campaigns, their futures suspended in contractual limbo. One of the most frustrating examples was R&B belter Amerie, a D.C. singer whose go-go-rooted 2005 single “1 Thing” climbed to the top 10 of both Billboard and The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop poll. Despite killer singles like the raucous “Gotta Work,” her follow-up, Because I Love It, was delayed and largely waylaid by Columbia, who soon dropped her. After releasing In Love & War on Island Def Jam in 2009, Amerie left music for a while. She launched the lifestyle vlog Books Beauty Ameriie and edited a young-adult anthology of fractured fairy-tales. She released the occasional EP and single, but she seemed more focused on books, her clothing line, and the birth of her first daughter. Could you blame her?

But last week, Amerie reemerged with the surprise release of her first proper album in nine years. 4AM Mulholland and After 4AM are actually two simultaneous EPs, but, given the vagaries of the digital age, you can consider each 20-minute-plus half the side of a single LP. Amerie took much more creative control over the 4AM diptych than those major-label releases, writing, recording, and engineering the songs herself. “It was really creatively freeing,” she told Billboard about what is essentially a two-sided concept album draped in late-night vibes and musings on love. It is a particularly sweet triumph, given the jerking around she received a decade ago.

4AM Mulholland opens with Amerie’s soprano—still bell-clear and confident, with a touch of hopeful breathiness—before melting into the swirls of surrounding synthesizers. She coaxes an off-screen lover to come closer on “Curious.” Don’t expect the now-liberated Amerie to return to the big beats and chopped-up soul samples of “1 Thing”—she’s operating in R&B’s now on the album’s first half, swathing her voice with electronic processing and framing it with insistent snares and swelling synths.

On first listen, the sprawl of sound takes center stage as it does on so much modern mood music. Listen closer, though, and Amerie’s thoughtful songwriting, detailed production, and muscular voice—which, even when heavily filtered, has the same commanding presence that made her earlier singles leap from the speakers—add detail and shape. The moody “A Heart’s for the Breaking,” for instance, counters Amerie’s legato wail with spiky arpeggios; during the bridge, she switches cadences briefly to match her backing track for a sneering confessional before reverting to those long notes.

After 4AM is bedheaded from the start, Amerie working in her lower register on “4The Lovers.” Its piston-like instrumental portends the stronger backbone of this half of these songs. “Give It All Up” struts along in a way that recalls In Love and War’s similarly gloom-stricken “Why R U,” although its layers of strings and piano hint at extra drama. There’s a bit of throwback action here, too: The rubbery synths that acted as the fulcrum for the 2008 Ne-Yo smash “Miss Independent” and its mid-2000s radio counterparts spangle the surface of “Midnight Rain,” while the swaying rhythms of the gentle ballad “I Remember Us” update the strummy R&B-pop of Stargate.

Despite these subtle callbacks, it shouldn’t be surprising that Amerie isn’t reveling in ’00s revivalism. Back then, after all, her label tsuris stemmed somewhat from her artistic restlessness, a possible liability amid plummeting record sales and a more complex commercial environment for R&B artists. The marketplace has finally caught up to Amerie—she can experiment with sounds and ideas without the pressure to go platinum, and she can release those experiments as she sees fit. “The speed at which everyone’s listening to things and digesting things, it allows a singer—especially if you’re independent—to get it off your chest and go to the next thing,” Amerie told Billboard. These unexpected EPs, which fuse Amerie’s thoughtful craft to R&B’s current wave and reveal more pleasure with each listen, make that tease of “next things” quite enticing.


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