Album review: Lolo Zouaï – High Highs to Low Lows

John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.
John Preston

Lolo Zouaï has released her debut album with little hype or campaigning. You hope that is because she and her label are so confident of High Highs to Low Lows’ self-assured brilliance that the need, or indeed desire, to relentlessly promote it is less essential than might usually be expected for such a new and young artist.

It’s still rare for an album to drop by a generally little known performer and for it to be a start-to-finish, perfectly formed and vital introduction to a a potential star. Zouaï’s sound is, without a doubt, popular and no wheels have been reinvented here, but impressively, and without the help of a team of songwriters and hit-guaranteed producers, she has made an elastic and beguiling trap-pop album that many have attempted but not all have achieved.

English and French speaking, 22-year old Lolo Zouaï has written songs that are surprisingly modest (‘Fake gold on my hoops real rips on my pants, they think it’s all Gucci but it’s 99 cents I swear’) and then grandiose, sensual and sad whilst draped in a deceptively dreamy, just out of focus sheen.

The entire record is produced by previous collaborator Stelio Phili, who adds layers of interest with suddenly slippery time signatures, hypnotic chopped and looped samples and tough, dramatic beats and orchestral flourishes. A close comparison might be Tinashe’s rogue album Nightride, another artist who ultimately is pop-focused but also an extension of the more experimental and cinematic R&B and hip hop sound established by artists such as Aaliyah (lyrically referred to here on ‘Blue’)and producers like Rodney Jerkins.

‘Caffeine’, ‘Out the Bottle’ and ‘Ride’ are bold and seductive mid-tempo bangers, top songs all of them. ‘Caffeine’ is the stickiest with the insistent melody of its chorus and ‘Ride’ creates low-key drama and melancholy with rolling big drums and falsetto trills. Slower tracks reveal a mature and elegant side to Zouaï’s vision.

‘Here to Stay’ outlines an unwelcome and extended mood that won’t shift in a way that is excepting, sad and, by the song’s final third, drenched in exquisite string parts. This soundscape continues on the romantic imagery of ‘Desert Rose’ which spools out with a drip-drip trap beat and desperate violin.

‘Summers in Vegas’ reflects on a lonely period of childhood that ends with the sound of a family video camera starting up and beaming out bitter-sweet memories. Lolo Zouaï has created a frequently beautiful and satisfyingly three dimensional pop record and High Highs to Low Lows is an unexpected delight.