Nottingham-born, East London-raised Neo Joshua was drawn to music from an early age, learning piano and taking singing lessons before going on to study vocal jazz at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Dividing her time between teaching and singing, primarily with The Boxettes, but also on backing vocals for the likes of Kwabs and Jarvis Cocker, she eventually began to seriously consider going solo. After establishing her own label, Little Tokyo, and releasing two EPs, ‘So Good’ in the autumn of 2014, and ‘February 15′ the following spring, NAO has gone from lurking in the background to releasing one of the UK’s most hotly anticipated debut albums of the year.
NAO half-jokingly expressed her fear that Frank Ocean would drop his latest album on the same day as ‘For All We Know’. She needn’t worry though, because her debut more than lives up to the hype that’s been building since placing third on the BBC’s Sound of 2016 poll. Written over a two year period and named after a 1934 jazz standard that’s been sung by everyone from Aretha Franklin to Clint Eastwood, NAO describes her sound as “wonky funk” with a “definite nod” to 90’s R&B. While her influences are pretty clear, she also transcends them, creating something that’s very modern, with her trill vocals sounding superb over all that it touches, from infectious pop, to dark electronica, to heartfelt ballads.
Beyond writing, NAO has a hand in the production side too, directly working on four of its fourteen tracks, with GRADES handling the lion’s share of the remaining ten alongside the likes of John Calvert and A.K Paul, brother of Jail Paul. ‘For All We Know’kicks off in style with the sharp guitar and bass combo of ‘Get to Know Ya’ and the irresistible swagger of ‘Inhale Exhale’ from last year’s ‘February 15’. It’s one of only two tracks included from her earlier releases, the other being the soulful, self-produced tale of requited love ‘Adore You’ featuring Abhi Dijon from her debut EP, ‘So Good’.
The bittersweet ‘In the Morning’ is another standout track, with its Burial-like beginnings which burst into life half-way through. NAO‘s acrobatic vocals are highlighted best on the bassy ‘Bad Blood’, while ‘DYWM’ has her singing over clean guitar before gradually transforming into electro-driven funk. Elsewhere, there’s disco to be found on the slick ‘We Don’t Give A’, a ballad on the airy ‘Blue Win’, and a nod to Prince on ‘Trophy’ featuring A.K. Paul. ‘For All We Know’is an ambitious first full-length album, but after spending the best part of a decade in the background NAO has more than taken her chance to show the world what she’s capable of with one of the debuts of the year.
‘For All We Know’ is out now via RCA and Little Tokyo
This NAO article was written by Daniel Kirby, a GIGsoup contributor.