Syd Chronicles a Dissolved Romance With ‘Broken Hearts Club’
Sydney Bennett, known mononymously as Syd, emerged in L.A.’s Odd Future collective as Syd tha Kyd, and found further fame as the frontwoman of visionary R&B band the Internet. Her distinctive airy vocals and understated, yet expressive songwriting quickly made her a standout among her peers. Syd released her solo debut album, “Fin” in early 2017, delving deeper into the innovative sounds that she had teased with the Internet, and ventured further with her “Always Never Home” EP later that same year. Her sophomore album, “Broken Hearts Club” brings a new conceptual ambition, chronicling the peaks and troughs of a relationship, through its final dissolution. Within the context of the story, Syd’s singular voice and musical instincts take on new weight, adding new resonance to a stylistic novelty that continues to impress.
While there’s no shortage of songs about heartbreak in popular music, there are few songs that anticipate it, especially in a relatively positive light. The titular acronym of single “CYBAH,” which begins Syd’s latest album, expands to “Could You Break a Heart?” Syd elaborates, “If I ever make you mine, need to know if you’re the type,” using the potential of a heartbroken outcome to determine whether an amorous excursion is worthwhile. It’s a daring romantic premise, and the music effectively captures the sentiment. An unwieldy grind of heavy low end locks into gear, while Syd’s airy vocals sluggishly fill the space, as she chooses to move forward in the relationship. A sole, definitively ‘80s guitar riff, with abundant flangers, carries the track, while Lucky Daye offers spectral voicings around Syd’s wispy utterances.
By the next track, “Tie the Knot,” love is well along its course. Over a steady beat and a punchy central riff, Syd flirtily elongates her vowel sounds, building to a coy refrain of “I like you a lot.” A scarcely discernible bass rumble of pitched-down vocals emerges beneath select lines, hinting at a paramour’s validation, and the simple, jaunty tune captures the foolhardy giddiness of a new infatuation. “Fast Car” racks up the ‘80s elements, with an era-specific whiplash snare and all the glory of a pop heavy metal guitar solo. Syd begins, “Kiss me like you mean it now,” and a wrenching sound follows on cue. A glossy sheen creates the feel of cruising in the “fast car,” and the track flows like a rapturous joyride. “Right Track” is every bit the affirmation that its title promises, a buoyant, effervescent number with intricate guitar work condensed into a streamlined pop work that recalls certain patterns of aughts R&B radio hits. Smino sing-raps a pointed verse, effectively complementing Syd’s singing and simulating the synergy that occurs at this point in the story.
Upon “Sweet,” we have clearly settled in deeper. Over a misty backdrop of luxuriant synth pads, Syd returns to the idea of “Tying the Knot,” with wayward glances having now given way to blissful abandon, checked by reminders that “I can’t fuck it up.” Syd’s gossamer melodies unfold in a swirling haze of deeper backing vocals that add color and depth to a resolute romantic urgency in dizzying free fall. “Control” brings a welcome grounding with a hard-hitting beat, albeit with some thrillingly disorienting snare speed-ups. Syd sings double-tracked in high and low registers, and puts on a passionate performance, stringing together tunes that again adeptly utilize the contemporary R&B lexicon with effective nostalgic resonance. “No Way” takes the form of a classic slow jam updated for the present moment, with pitched-down vocals and trap hi hats that steer devilishly off-grid, giving some thrilling edge to Syd’s free, soulful maneuvers.
A turning point comes on “Getting Late,” with trudges portentously to a droning bass grind and an austere, minimal kick and snare. The lyrics function doubly, with the advancing hour hinting at both the demand of carnal desires and a realization that the relationship might be duly running its course. Syd’s breathy, layered harmonies express creeping temptations and their concurrent anxieties. “Out Loud” captures a still swooning, but conflicted state, with a fresh and clean, yet hazy production. The track pairs Syd with Kehlani, who offers some welcome variety, While Syd’s vocals are linear, curving gently with broad strokes, Kehlani’s come in pointed, zig-zagging motions, while vaguely gospel backing vocals add a richness that completes the display.
There is always a spontaneity at the core of Syd’s and the Internet’s music, and this especially comes out in “Heartfelt Freestyle.” an especially jazzy number on which she captures the feeling of being swept away in the moment. A truly unique aesthetic emerges on “BMHWDY,” with detuned bass-ey synths creating an off-kilter dancefloor haze – amorous ecstacy filtered to a mellow comportment through a streamlined beat. The short but poignant “Goodbye My Love” employs stylings fit for the drama of its title, with freeform, jazzy R&B instrumentation left to soak up reverb, before Syd delicately issues her farewell over the backdrop. Finally, “Missing Out,” the single that Syd dropped early last year, concludes the narrative. Syd sings an infectious melody in a seductive, hushed voice over phase-shifting, psychedelic synths and a perfectly sparse drumbeat, with a strategically placed glockenspiel chime that makes all the difference. Already an instantaneous single, it achieves new resonance with the whole story now laid out.
“Broken Hearts Club” manages to condense all the highs and lows of a heated, ill-fated romance into a lithe, fluid listen. There is plenty of drama peppered throughout, but it comes in Syd’s breathy delivery and with her artful restraint. Given how R&B traditionally lends itself to histrionic excesses, this is a considerable feat. Sounds from the ‘80s through the present moment are ergonomically arranged with a decidedly futuristic aesthetic unique to Syd. “Broken Hearts Club” shows the ongoing development of her distinctive voice and style, setting a new narrative precedent that grounds Syd’s songwriting in universal lore. A tale of heartbreak might be hackneyed subject matter, but that only makes the freshness of Syd’s singing and songwriting stand out more.
“Broken Hearts Club” releases April 8 on Apple Music.