She has sung backing vocals for Pulp and Jarvis Cocker, studied vocal jazz at university, and spent years in an a cappella group. So it’s no surprise that Nottingham-born, East London-raised Neo Jessica Joshua’s style is as eclectic as her experience may suggest.
A slick hotchpotch of soul, R&B and vague hints of electronica filter through her sweet-sounding trill of a voice, yet there is something indefinably new and exciting about what the 28-year-old brings to the over-saturated electro-soul-pop genre.
Nao has been tipping around since 2014, but will be most familiar to those who keep a close eye on “hotly tipped” lists. She ranked third in the BBC’s Sound of 2016 poll earlier this year and features on Disclosure’s latest album. Regardless of her status as hot property, Nao’s debut album is a wonderfully accomplished collection that strips away fads and dips into the annals of R&B and pop from the 1980s and 1990s, plucking the best, least-dated features from them.
Get to Know Ya breathlessly recalls a time when Brandy ruled the charts; Inhale Exhale doffs its cap to Salt N' Pepa's sass. Elsewhere, Happy touches on Janet Jackson and the grimy, synthy guitar riffs on Trophy could pass for a Sheila E/Prince collaboration. The snap and slouch of Bad Blood and the sultry thunk of piano on Feels Like (Perfume) are woozily intoxicating.
Still, this is no mere nostalgia trip. Every song is laden with emotional depth, as Nao flits between heady love (Adore You), bittersweet torment (the sparse, eerie In the Morning) and regret (Fool to Love).
There is no clearer sense that she is untangling the mess of a painful relationship on nearly every song. But when heartache sounds so irresistibly groovy, it’s impossible to look away.