East London native Neo Jessica Joshua steadily slipped into the foreground during the mid-2010s. In a set of developmental and promising EPs self-released in 2014 and 2015, the former background singer resembled a 21st century mix of Deniece Williams and Lil' Mo with a sweet assertiveness that prompted her frequent classification as "songbird." Later in 2015, Joshua became more visible when she augmented Disclosure's Caracal, an album with drop-ins by fellow R&B progressives Kwabs (whom she once supported) and Miguel. Subsequently a BBC Sound of 2016 nominee, Joshua completed her overstuffed debut album with old and new accomplices including A.K. Paul, Grades, and Jungle. Titled after the 1930s pop song, a reference to her early training, and a hidden acknowledgment of her moment-seizing approach, the album has no weak songs. There is an excess of adequate ones, however, and the two tracks repeated from the EPs are unnecessary. When the new productions are all the way on, they kick out jagged, slightly fractured funk, often with a bit of guitar grind, the ice to Joshua's fire and light. It's a unique contrast and combination. Somehow, Joshua counteracts and complements the clinical quality in much of the production work. An athletic vocalist who never seems to break a sweat, Joshua can ride each tempo shift and rhythmic stammer, levitate, and hit runs like Williams, then dip almost as deep as Lalah Hathaway, like it's not much. For all her individuality, she's not too proud to make obvious references, like the one to Kate Bush via Maxwell that sets up "In the Morning," a searing ballad in which splitting with her partner sounds necessary for her survival. Another reference to an evident inspiration arrives during the sprightly "Adore You," where what sounds like SWV are smoothly pasted into the scene. This covers several other phases in a relationship, from infatuation to contempt, alternating from precise to hazy expressions that all seem deeply felt. Joshua's voice might be best matched for conveying the rush of falling in love, highlighted in the teasing/teetering ballad "Feels Like (Perfume)" and the whomping boogie track "Happy." Alternately, she's just as natural at covering opposing moods, as on "Trophy," a jab of rigid funk in which an objectifier is efficiently swatted. She's operating at an advanced level.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman