College can be draining. Between the first set of midterms wrapping up, the emotional burden of constantly socializing or worrying that you’re not socializing enough, and being away from home (possibly for the first time), it is essential to take time to recharge. For some, that might mean heading to the gym for a stress-relieving workout, laying out in the grass or letting yourself dance your stress out at a frat party. But sometimes it’s important to contemplate in a more subdued way and seeing as you’re reading in this section of the paper, I imagine you’re here for more whimsical medicine anyways. If that’s the case, your prescription is the full-length debut album from Baltimore R&B artist Brent Faiyaz, “Sonder Son.”
Brent Faiyaz is meant to be the eponymous sonder son on this album, and how fitting that name is. “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,” an online project by John Koenig to create new words for undefined emotions, defines sonder as the epiphany that one’s life is singular in a massive web of complex consciousness made up of literally billions of other separated unique lives. The weight of this realization is central to and can be felt throughout the album, but Faiyaz touches on what’s critical to him about this concept on “Sonder Son (Interlude)” near the end of the album. “Maybe I just can’t open up/I don’t trust anyone/I don’t know what they want”. However, taking this statement at face value could leave listeners wondering what the rest of the album is, if not opening up.
If you flipped the first page on your midterm and found that none of the questions were on topics covered in lecture, “Home,” the opener, will make you at least thankful that Stanford doesn’t send your grades home anymore. The track is both a remembrance of the times when Faiyaz’s mother would reprimand him for his poor grades and disregard for school and a reflection on how he would use writing as an escape. The subdued synth sounds and low backing vocals compliment the melancholy of this cut that sets the stage for the rest of the album. The next two tracks continue this trend of nostalgic storytelling, by letting us know about his friends and one of his young loves. Then on “First World Problemz/Nobody Carez,” we are introduced to the day to day sadness that Faiyaz experiences. The short chorus, which is delivered in a beautifully smooth voice, is sung over a playful guitar melody and is quite catchy. The brief intermission in the track begins by playing out over the first of many Spanish-influenced guitar riffs. Then, the music cuts and Faiyaz delivers a spoken word piece of social commentary, a move which has seen a resurgence in popularity in the post-Trump era R&B scene.
Love songs are ubiquitous to nearly all R&B, and Faiyaz is no exception, in fact love seems to comprise a not insignificant portion of his “blues.” On “Missin Out,” he is accompanied by soft electric guitar for the verses and he croons the chorus over a minimalist beat constructed of 80’s synth, tv static and woodblock. However, the lyrics and production are so understated that the listener almost doesn’t realize that Faiyaz is trying to compel his love interest to hang out with him before he moves to L.A. and makes it big. And this isn’t the only time where it is evident that Faiyaz does not make lyrical complexity a priority. “Stay Down,” “Talk 2 U” and “Needed” all touch on his less than successful relationships as they relate to his varying states of fame and they are also the tracks with the least going on lyrically. It might seem like a string of sad anti-love songs would get quite boring, but sonically each one has a distinct enough feeling that it saves the album from being repetitive.
However, the track that’s the key to understanding the album, and certainly my favorite, is “So Far Gone/Fast Life Bluez.” Faiyaz is content to let the song begin simply, with his light ad lib complemented only by a minimalist beat adorned with just an intermittent pinging sound and some choral tones. It begins to build on the lilt of Faiyaz’s voice, showcasing his sense of rhythm. Right before the hook, the track becomes a little crowded with a clamor of voices competing for dominance. But as chorus breaks, Faiyaz’s delivery, full of soul, brings the track together. The chorus is an evocative cry for help, drawing power from its vulnerability and the strength of Faiyaz’s upper range. This is undoubtedly the most memorable delivery on the album, and one that will stick with me long after I leave “Sonder Son.”
As his first full-length solo project, “Sonder Son“ is a very impressive display of what Brent Faiyaz is capable of. The ability of an R&B artist is dependent on their voice, and Faiyaz shows his prowess, delivering with his versatile deliveries and range. The influence of his time in the Dominican Republic while writing this album is clearly displayed by Faiyaz’s understanding of rhythm and the beautiful beats that the album brings back from his sojourn are incredibly fun. The album’s only true failing is in its lackluster lyrical depth, which is accentuated by the homogenous subject matter on many of the tracks. However, these are things which can be attributed to his lack of experience and gives listener something to look forward to on future projects. As the sonder son matures and his writing comes into its own, Brent Faiyaz will certainly be someone to look out for.
Contact Omar El-Sabrout at omarel ‘at’ stanford.edu.