“This ain’t romance, we’re here for what we need oh we ain’t here to hold hands” – Nomance lets you know what the stakes are early. This is the hook that underpins its titular opener. But the debut EP by New York-based, Singapore-born singer and lover slodown, produced entirely by Yllis, a Singaporean producer also beaming powerful transmissions out of New York, is here for more than just a good time – its penetrating sense of drama and intensely beautiful compositions will reverberate for a long time.
Music that matters acknowledges that no one is without his/her bloodstain. You carry the totality of your shame, pride, pain, the stuff of your experience with you every moment you’re alive. In Nomance, slo shows how rich, vital and visceral the language used to understand that said experience can be. When he premiered the music video for “Khaled”, one of the project’s standouts with us on Valentine’s Day, and an apology to a cheated-on lover, he admitted that any catharsis drawn from it would be a fallacy: “The situation being told in the song has happened again and again since, so at this point it just feels like: Note To Self”. There’s big-dick playa hip-hop, and there’s this.
R&B is the six-tracker’s familiar veneer but that’s the most obvious thing about it. Its relevance derives from the sociological precision with which it renders the experience of love and intimacy today. Modernity and contemporaneity are the twinned canvasses against which hearts are made and broken as bodies lock in sweaty splendour and detangle with pulverising regret. These days, all is fair in love and war and slo has furnsihed a six-stage breakdown of the emotional heft of that reality.
To enter the smoky, late-night world of Nomance is to be complicit in its ways. For you to get it, you must embrace its sex and emotional violence. Because, if it hasn’t happened to you, you’ve probably entertained the possibility of inflicting it on someone else – if you haven’t already done it. And if you somehow are above all that, know that you live in a world where that happens all the time. There are no compromises here and that starts at the level of its christening. A ‘nomance’ is a relationship that is hollow. It contents are nothing more than the bodies that comprise it – it is only a negation of itself. This is the murky fount from which Nomance gushes with its chronicles of betrayal, vengeance and ennui and to fully appreciate its complexity, you have to start with its conclusion: That modern love, love in the Age of Tinder, is an ouroboros.
the narrative in Nomance echoes that cyclical pattern. What was originally intended to be a short film idea, with the opening scene of the first song being the closing image of the final track, has instead found expression in music. When you factor in the subject matter that lies coiled at the centre of it all, you realise the countless socio-cultural minefields being set off. The first song pulls the curtain on the worldview of the times: two parties engaged in dispassionate sex. Post-coitus, “she’s texting someone else/Who thinks that I love her he’s wrong/ really I don’t”. That’s slo speaking as himself.
The Weeknd’s operation, of which it is tempting to think is the antecedent of slo’s, involves Abel Tesfaye playing The Weeknd. But there’s no cast of characters in Nomance. You’ll feel the sting of its import a lot more intimately – ironic but not really – because it’s happening to someone real. Case in point: In video of the final song “For the Night” [the anti-“Passionfruit”], slo’s lover actually deletes Nomance from iTunes before she heads out to the club to get ‘litty’ and over him, culminating in the opening scene.
The climax of “Nomance” is this: “Even when i’m inside her/ Ain’t no feelings inside us/ We just make it look like love”. Jasmine Sokko, who provides the female counterpoint to slo’s machismo, shows that it’s not really about gender anymore: “Even when you’re inside me/ ain’t no feelings inside us/ we just make it look like love”. Her delivery is emphatically crystalline, sultry to the point of being sublime, as if to underscore that this is the gospel of love at this moment in time. This is the new normal – “you ain’t gotta thank me but you will come (welcome)”.
What amplifies the potency of Nomance is its simplicity. slo’s heartbreaking coos unspool in a plainspoken, conversational manner, allowing his words to cut with a penetrating clarity. The wordplay of lines such as, “Still you were hurt by the one who made the cut” and “So you let him come inside/ Then come the blue ticks that come with no replies”, isn’t merely a show of lyrical dexterity. It’s more kindling for the slow-burning fires of the truth of the music than just flash.
Then, there are the sounds against and through which all this plays out. No sound in popular culture is more contextually specific than hip-hop. And no matter how you feel about it, Asia is chiming in on it undeniably. Yllis’ approach here was to recontextualise classic Chinese KTV standards from the ‘60s onwards in the contemporary arena of R&B. This is what gives songs filled with hard, knife-point truths a certain soft magnificence, a wistfulness that, though soulful, also magnifies the longing that undercuts the hook-ups and breakups of its world.
“The whole R&B and soul scene is quite saturated. So I’m trying to keep it fresh and authentic”, Yllis says when asked about his vision for the project. And by ‘authentic’, he means, “an Asian, Chinese-Singaporean voice”. Not imitation or appropriation but elevation. An update of a sensibility, that, back in the day, only had room for a certain voice and experience but now has to progress in tandem with the world.
So, you’ll hear voluptuous swells of bass, beautifully ornate synths and, on “Pussy Willow Interlude”, the moment on the EP where the sacred and the profane are one, a sky-scraping guitar solo that crowns the mix. The whole thing is consummately deluxe and elegant. Think of a Wong Kar Wai set that’s about to host the most affective and intense 30 minutes of your day. And when it ends, you’re brought right to the beginning to live it again.
In an ecosystem clogged with Champion hoodies and fake-ironic dad caps, Nomance is a silken robe, a shroud over a monumentality that consumes the minds and bodies of those that know its truths with full complicity. If you testify, testify.