With all of the tired clichés and recycled sonic themes found in modern soul, it’s refreshing to discover an artist such as Sy Smith. Smith’s credits include singing backup for a variety of artists, including Whitney Houston, Usher, Brandy and Ginuwine, and appearing on Ally McBeal. Impressive, to be sure, but Smith’s own musical sensibilities are equally, if not more, impressive than those mainstream artists’. With a past firmly rooted in L.A.’s underground, The Syberspace Social is an adventurous voyage into future soul that leaves me wanting to know more about her. The blend of contemporary soul and electronic production techniques partnered with Smith’s smooth yet creative vocal delivery make this release a standout.
The SyberSpace Social floats on a steady stream of progressive R&B that is unlike anything else on the market. The three opening tracks, “Welcome 2 Syberspace,” “Fa Sho,” and “Aquarius Rising,” create a vibe of sonic exploration and limitless possibilities. “Welcome 2 Syberspace” sets the mood with its spoken-word vibe and casual beat, and “Fa Sho” is a high-energy excursion into futuristic funk that is edgy but still has mainstream appeal. “Aquarius Rising,” produced by Dutch beatmaster Nicolay, rides on a bizarre electronic pulse as Smith sings, “I’m a sucker for anything breaking new ground/ Turned on so much by adventurous sounds.” The singer wears her psychedelic influences on her sleeve on tracks such as “Dreamtrip,” a blunted lullaby that effortlessly conveys Smith’s off-kilter style through lazy beats and layered vocals.
Aside from the tripped-out productions, the album works mostly because of Smith’s interesting vocal style. Her raspy voice is soothing and always controlled. She doesn’t belt out like a diva but conjures images of smoky jazz clubs in the twenty-second century. She takes the jazz vocal sound and transforms it into something fresh by incorporating spoken-word and hip-hop influences. Even on tracks that are more traditional R&B, such as the serene “Turnstyles” and “Bruise,” Smith elevates them through sheer will and conviction. With so many artists reaching into the past for inspiration, it’s nice to find one that is pushing into the future.