Album Review: Nnamdï Ogbonnaya – “Brat”

Posted: by The Editor

Nnamdï Ogbonnaya’s music isn’t exactly easy to define. It is constantly in motion, slipping easily between styles, moods, spirits, easy definitions of genre. You have to keep a close eye on the twisting and churning of his songs, otherwise you might take for granted the ease and grace with which Chicago’s Nnamdï Ogbonnaya does every damn thing he wants on his new LP BRAT. It’s no trouble to really engage with these songs, though. A true pleasure from start to finish, BRAT consciously, continually reinvents itself, takes the pieces apart and puts them back together, forms brilliant new pictures with the same elements again and again.

In a now-familiar kind of message, in which Nnamdï communicated that events surrounding the album’s release were to be cancelled due to the global pandemic that we’re all facing now, he also said that BRAT is about “choosing to create art in an increasingly turbulent world, how sometimes that can feel selfish in moments like this.”

BRAT is full of these phases of picking yourself and your work apart. And just as he goes on to say “I think we all truly know that that’s not the case,” so too does BRAT repeatedly work to undermine the deprecating internal voices. The opening “Flowers to My Demons” juxtaposes a raw, fraught acoustic guitar against a layered, produced voice that argues with itself—a low voice calmly sings “I sent flowers to my demons” and a pitched-up voice replies “after I cast them out I turn back and invite them.” 

The tools that Nnamdï uses to fill out his sonic palette give this album a high-fidelity feel, like an event that has been meticulously, pain-stakingly constructed. “Gimme Gimme” luxuriates in a thick, crawling synth. “Bullseye” employs a whirlwind of voices coming from all different directions, each one vying for your attention. “Glass Casket” soaks Nnamdï’s vocals in a metallic sheen while distant, cloudlike pianos play in the distance. The dense slate of sounds and textures that Nnamdï works with on BRAT make for a vibrant, kaleidoscopic listen. 

The emotional range of the record is also impressively wide—these songs are not at all shy about conveying an intense feeling. “Semantics” brings a dire energy to BRAT, Nnamdï’s rapping steadily piling on the pressure toward a loud, show-stopping final eruption. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “It’s OK” is direct and assuring. Lines that might otherwise sound like platitudes (“there’s no need to pretend you’re okay if you’re not”) instead come off as completely genuine, like real advice from a good friend. Closer “Salut” is filled with gratitude—it feels bright and bleary, birds singing their morning song in the background like a greeting to a morning full of possibilities, a necessary complement to Nnamdï’s “If it’s meant to be, then it will be.” 

Perhaps the most incredible thing about BRAT is the way that Nnamdï continues to beat himself at his own game, upping the melodic stakes until they hit a glorious boiling point. Opening the curtains on the second act of the record, “Perfect In My Mind” is a strong contender for the best song released so far this year, an ecstatic track that bursts into peaks of sweet relief before diving back into pools of tightly-coiled tension. Beginning in flames of off-the-wall riffs and furious, frenetic drums, Nnamdï bursts through the noise to announce airily, “I have a plan,” wrapping all of the chaos into warm bundles of control.

Over and over again, as the explosions are deployed and reset ad nauseum, Nnamdï continues to assert, while switching between a low baritone and a breezy falsetto, “everything works out perfect in my mind.” It illuminates the heart of the dilemma that BRAT brings to life in gorgeous technicolor. Here, Nnamdï perfectly illustrates the battle of reasoning you do with yourself in the act of creating art—doing your best to balance the commotion just long enough to get something out into the world. In that way, BRAT feels like a tiny miracle, the result of a battle well fought. 


Jordan Walsh | @jordalsh

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