R.Ariel seems to have trouble not creating art, even if it means mixing media with abandon. The Phoenix musician has an extensive history as a photographer and has also published a book of stream of consciousness short stories (along with tour photos) called In North America. Even her live act leans toward performance art rather than concert, aiming for an audience experience that blends visual and musical art.
Her latest album, oh, is in many ways a sonic version of her creative life: layered and ambient, smooth and pretty while still experimental and a bit weird. The 8-track album sounds like an updated, indie-rock version of Sade with sensual, jazzy and breathy vocals mixed with low-fi background music. The first single off the record, “Told,” blends R.Ariel’s smoky vocals with a playful sample of pouring water in a way that is super satisfying, but the following track, “Sleep,” is the standout of the album. “Take a pill/Have a drink/Try to sleep/Smoke some weed,” she croons in the ear-wormy chorus, amid halting keyboard chords and snare drum.
The worst aspects of the album stem from what’s best: It seems a bit nebulous and unfocused at times—the lyrics sometimes hilariously vague—and R.Ariel’s vocals can wander into mumble territory. But the overall arc of the record is pleasing: great for a late night drive, quiet time at home or an evening of sonic performance art.
R.Ariel plays the ZACC Below Thu., Nov. 16, at 8 PM, along with 30Spice Simply Damon.