Shelley FKA DRAM
In the five years between Shelley FKA DRAM's debut album, Big Baby DRAM, and its follow-up, Shelley FKA DRAM, the singer ascended through music's ranks (and the charts, thanks to smash hit “Broccoli”) with a radiant smile and a preternatural knack for levity in song, and then seemingly left as quickly as he'd arrived. His rise also set off his spiral as he battled through addiction, largely going quiet after 2018, before getting sober in 2020. His rebrand from DRAM to Shelley was, at least in part, an effort to separate the bubbly demeanor that became his staple from the sensual lover that steers Shelley FKA DRAM. To that end, much of what has always made Shelley compelling remains intact here: His vocals are agile and opulent, slipping easily between buttery tones (as on “Something About Us”) and soaring falsettos (as on “Married Woman”), while his personality shines in moments of playful flirtation and earnest romance that especially come to life on the album's duets. There's a lushness to the instrumentation and arrangements that allows him to shine as not only a singer but a showman. The pacing of songs like “Exposure” or “Beautiful” has the improvisational feel of both a pulpit and a jazz lounge; others have spoken intros and outros as if recorded straight from the stage. It all combines to create an at once modern yet old-school collection—little innuendo is shrouded in abstraction, but he has a winking charm that calls to mind male R&B singers of the '80s, whose ways of melding genuine sex appeal and lighthearted banter captured the era. It's a niche that few of his peers are capable of inhabiting (and certainly not with such conviction), and on Shelley FKA DRAM, he emphasizes the sublime style that's always been behind the smile.