Ctrl (Deluxe)

SZA

Ctrl (Deluxe)

Control is an illusion, but as SZA's mother suggests at the open and close of Ctrl, there's power in holding on to the illusion, even while acknowledging it as such. The singer's debut examines what it looks like to own the narrative of your life and regain control simply by giving it up. It's at once deeply personal and profoundly universal, like an unlocked Tumblr with thousands of reposts spilling out in music form. Until a late flurry of percussion arrives, doleful guitar and bass are SZA’s only accompaniment on opener “Supermodel,” a stinging kiss-off to an adulterous ex. It doesn’t prepare you for the inventively abstract production that follows—disembodied voices haunting the airy trap-soul of “Broken Clocks,” the stuttering video-game sonics of “Anything”—but it instantly establishes the emotive power of her rasping, percussive vocal. Whether she’s feeling empowered by her physicality on the Kendrick Lamar-assisted “Doves in the Wind” or wrestling with insecurity on “Drew Barrymore,” SZA’s songs impact quickly and deeply. The deluxe version, released on the fifth anniversary of the original, adds seven more, all packing an equal emotional punch. On songs like “2AM,” “Tread Carefully,” and “Awkward,” as throughout the album, she duels with herself as often as she does her partners; sometimes she's at peace with the mess of it all and then the tables turn and then turn again. The idea of control is reconciled through acceptance—of her barefaced self, of others, of the love she's offering and the love they can't—rather than attempts to manipulate reality. Through Ctrl, SZA sets herself free having realized that surrendering isn't always settling, that the demons and skeletons in the closet were, in fact, remarkably human all along.

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