Kiran Gandhi is a music industry thinker and artist. She served as Interscope Records’ first-ever digital analyst 2011-2013. She has toured internationally, drumming for artist M.I.A in 2013 and DJ duo Thievery Corporation in 2010, and now produces music under her own project Madame Gandhi. You can follow her on Twitter here, Instagram here and Facebook here, and hear music on her Soundcloud page.
“This is my story… no, wait…this is our story”
— Little Simz
In an age of singles and playlist chaos, there are very few albums that deserve our full attention from start to finish. Little Simz has accomplished the rare feat of making one that does. This twenty-one-year-old has found and owned her voice. There is nothing more powerful than being able to pay attention to ideas and thoughts that come from within rather than from without. It is difficult to pay attention to ideas and feelings that come organically from your own being, to have the bravery to articulate them without worrying whether or not anyone else will get it. But this bravery, which artists have by creating the very place for new ideas to live regardless of how they are perceived otherwise, is what enables creation of the best music, and enables fans not just to relate but to find something new within themselves.
A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons makes you feel good sonically, while triggering a series of beautiful visuals stemming from the lyrics — nuanced ideas as well as stories from Little Simz’ life. It made me want to listen to it several times in a row, because each time I would find myself relating to a new part of her journey. Each song contributes to what she wants her audience to know about different phases and experiences in her life.
Compared to her 2013 mixtape Blank Canvas and her 2014 EP E.D.G.E, A Curious Tale… is more melodic and richer, and it impressively mixes electronics with acoustic instruments. It will be one of the most elevating experiences live, especially if she chooses to bring a band with her.
Within fifteen seconds, the opening track “Persons” introduces the experience Simz clearly hopes to elicit from the listener: “Women can be kings.” It sets the tone for the entire album, in which Simz’s Piscean side takes over and we know she will be vulnerable and yet visceral and liberated. A sample of a man politicking on the mic opens the track: “What do you mean she’s not king? In 2015, we are redefining the very definition…[people] are scared of a pioneer, of a revolutionary, of authenticity….”
Simz sings more on this album than she has on previous releases, both through samples and by laying down vocals on the chorus hooks. She establishes herself as the king and then proceeds to give us her full soul. On “Full or Empty,” Simz wails, taking us to a wild place on the last verse. It feels like it was recorded in one take, unrehearsed, the product of a one-time emotional reaction that could never be replicated in quite the same way.
Often, when told not to do something, or that we have to change something that feels authentic, most of us feel discouraged — we let it get to us and we move on to something else. But for Simz, the bravest thing anyone can do is to preserve the ideas and stories that are true to their own values and experiences. That honesty is evident in every song on this album. In “God Bless Mary,” she sings to those who have supported her unconditionally, and she describes the various hardships she has endured on the way to where she is today. This gratitude embodies the beauty that is Simz: hard, empowered and yet grounded. “The industry will break you, Simi, you’re not strong enough,” she says on “Persons.” “What else can you show me?”
At a young age, Simz has quickly come to understand the value of telling her story in order to give voice to others who don’t have a platform to tell theirs. Her ability to weave between literal statements and metaphor makes her work relatable, well beyond just a story of trying to hustle in the music industry. Her verses about overcoming insecurity give the listener strength to go forth on her own journey, feeling like she might come out even half as bad-ass, self-aware and empowered as Little Simz.
My only criticism is that I wanted more extreme dynamics. I wanted the music to emulate the highs and lows of the emotions depicted in the lyrics, to give us drops and breaths, requiring us to renew our attention to the music and get lost in it. A Curious Tale… does do an inspiring job of keeping us locked into the storytelling, especially when paired with the more hypnotic electronic beats on the album (“Gratitude” and “This Is Not an Outro”), but I was waiting for those moments when I felt the music was going to make me lose my mind — in a good way.
Simz shows us that no one should feel too young, too different, too afraid to share their experiences and speak their mind. She makes our fears and insecurities OK, makes us feel that her story is our story, and she gives us hope that we can do anything we want to. Anyone who is paying attention will know that Simz is here to stay, and she’ll keep pushing us all forward by speaking truth. She’s identified the power of having a voice, saying what is real and vulnerable and taking the listener on an emotional journey through her pains and wins.
Favorite song: “Gratitude”
Most sonically innovative: “The Lights”
Listen while driving: “Dead Body”
Listening on repeat: “Tainted”
Would be amazing live: “Full or Empty”
Most vibes: “This Is Not an Outro”