Yuna’s ‘Chapters’: Album Review

It’s been a minute since Malaysian artist Yuna has released an album stateside. For fans still living off of the ephemeral high of her previous LP, the underrated 2013 gem Nocturnal, you’d recall that the onetime aspiring lawyer cut her teeth on a particular space and sound in music: an eclectic mix of indie pop and folk tunes that came off as a mixture of Sia and Coldplay wrapped in one pop package. But in February, Yuna reemerged with “Places To Go”, a DJ Premier-produced banger with an overt hip-hop bent. It was a radical departure from the singer’s breezier pop offerings. Her follow-up single, the Usher-assisted single “Crush,” saw the singer dabble in quiet storm.

As if linking up with R&B’s king of the sexy slow jam wasn’t enough, the single served as confirmation that her upcoming album might serve as her coronation into the R&B game. And so on Chapters (out ), Yuna firmly dips her toe into the pool of contemporary R&B. And the water is pretty spectacular.

For the genre’s myriad fans who are heavily engaged in its ongoing ’90s revival, you’d be hard-pressed to find an album more evocative of the hallmarks of the genre’s golden age. Opening track “Mannequin” sees Yuna channeling her inner Brandy, using her soft vocals to serenade an unnamed lover with a somber testimonial of devotion in the face of love gone awry: “I don’t know what it means to feel whole, you’re next to me but I feel so cold with you / I will be your mannequin love.”

Across the album’s 13 tracks, Yuna inhabits the skin of several R&B icons. On songs like “Best Of Me” and the Jhene Aiko-assisted “Used To Love,” she matches Aaliyah‘s rhythmic cadence and finger-snapping melodies, a fine ode to the late legend’s One In A Million days. However, if Yuna were to be compared to just one other R&B artist, it would be Sade.

On Chapters, a musical kinship between the two singers is firmly established. Yuna’s serene yet chic vocals beguile the listener into a suspended state of nirvana, much like Sade’s entrancing ’90s output. “Unrequited Love” could easily serve as her very own version of Sade’s “No Ordinary Love,” with the singer expressing her amped-up emotions regarding a mysterious beau over a downtempo beat: “Honey, when I look into your eyes, my senses ignite / I feel like I was waiting for an answer.” 

The relaxed vibes continue on the album’s fifth cut, “Best Love,” which skews toward smooth jazz. Fans hoping that Yuna kept some of her straight-up pop roots intact will find solace in “Too Close” and “Your Love,” two prime candidates for future singles that serve as the album’s most forward-thinking pop moments.

Regardless of genre excursions or reference points, Chapters is an unexpected addition to the list of the year’s best albums so far. Effortless in its design, its understated nature results in a bold artistic statement for Yuna.

Score: 4/5

Jordan Simon

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