Every once in a few lukewarm pop albums, we’re gifted something fantastic — a record with dynamicity that yanks at past heartstrings with resonance. Nineteen-year-old singer Khalid does just that on American Teen, his light and beachy debut album.
The piece brings warmth to a bitter winter’s day — and peace of mind in Khalid’s blatant honesty about unnoticed little nuances.
The record’s aesthetic — calm, passive and collected — is common sense; the R&B/soul singer’s a proud El Paso native, after all. But, what’s not expected is Khalid’s tremendous vocal vigor — mirroring the experimental vocal ranks of a stripped-down Frank Ocean on Blonde and the synthesized, airy production of Childish Gambino on “Redbone.” His inflections’ cracks at points while delivering precise vocal shifts at other times. It’s sexy — seductive, to an extent. And not a single track feels like a recount; for 15 tracks, Khalid speaks to a lover — and based off the effort’s unbroken consistency, Khalid’s speaking to an individual, a single past interest (or, possibly, unrequited love).
“Therapy” speaks to the comfort of co-dependence and, on “Saved,” the comfort of keeping in contact post shattered dependence.
What’s even more engaging is Khalid’s departure from breakup ballads — an easy R&B clutch. Too, Khalid perfectly captures the teenage spirit — especially of the southwestern adolescent — and all the experimental unveiled in coming-of-age.
On “Young, Dumb and Broke,” Khalid ushers the fervor of the unmolded (yet careless) teen, reveling in a life without restriction — minus the financial limits of the time. On the obviously named “8TEEN,” he touches on youthful dabbling in drugs, proclaiming, “Damn, my car still smells like marijuana / My mom is gonna kill me,” and “I saved those feelings for you / So let’s do all the stupid sh*t that young kids do.”
Most skillfully, Khalid manages to capture teenage mental imprisonment — happily admitted by relationships and shackled by moral lapses — in the song’s titles.
“American Teen,” the starting track, affords a summary of what’s to come. “Another Sad Love Song,” an honest admittance of teenage disappointment. “Coaster,” the inconsistency of youth. “Let’s Go,” an active attitude, despite those inconsistencies.
Really, Khalid’s work boils down to one word: mature.
And it’s not just mature for a barely college-age kid. The lyrics bring color — life, even — to what’s, for some, a distant period of trips and tribulations. The record’s production is modern — hailing the quality of authenticity on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo — and, regardless of the approach each track takes up, it fits effortlessly.
“Keep Me” offers a pop beat to compliment the track’s yearnful lyricism. “Angels” is brought to the heaven’s highest with angelic piano accompaniment. “Hopeful” takes up a funky 80s beat, a genius addition to the song’s sadder content.
American Teen is for everyone — first resonating with anyone immersed in Khalid’s stage of life, curious and laden with untamed adventure, and ending with those who’ve found the answer, looking to relive that same sense of fascination.