Album review: Chloe x Halle - Ungodly Hour

Album review: Chloe x Halle - Ungodly Hour | Random J Pop

Ungodly Hour is actually Chloe x Halle's second studio album in the wake of a discography which also includes an EP and a mixtape. But in many ways it feels like their first. It's no surprise that for many Ungodly Hour will be their introduction to the hyper-talented duo, as their debut album didn't create waves in the same way that Ungodly Hour's single "Do It" and their amazingly creative home performances have done.

Ungodly Hour is a hell of an introduction for those new to the duo, but is also a massive sign of growth for those who have been rocking with Chloe x Halle since Sugar Symphony.

This is a very different album to what Chloe x Halle have given us before. Not only is the material far more grown, but there is a laser focus with the whole entire thing; from the visuals, the to the lean tracklist, to the songs. With Sugar Symphony and The Kids Are Alright, Chloe x Halle were the carefree Black teenage girls doing what the hell they liked. With Ungodly Hour, Chloe and Halle are women in their twenties. They've lived a little more. They've witnessed the woman who signed them handle her shit from a proximity they would never have dreamed five years ago. And they've also witnessed what their peers have done. Ungodly Hour isn't just focused because Parkwood have told Chloe x Halle to be. It's focused because they as artists themselves are also far more focused as songwriters, as producers, as artists and as women. They know what they want and how they want to be seen in the world.

It's easy to see Ungodly Hour as the coming of age album, but it feels like the step beyond that. Chloe x Halle aren't singing from the perspective of entering womanhood. It's from the perspective of them in the thick of it. Figuring it all out as they go, but also having a clear understanding of how it all goes. They curse. They talk about boys. They talk about love. They talk about self-care. They talk about trifling niggas. They're open about their insecurities. But it's all from a place of knowing., or at least knowing themselves, as opposed to uncertainty as to what may be or what could happen.

Album review: Chloe x Halle - Ungodly Hour | Random J Pop

Despite the comparatively lean tracklist, Ungodly Hour doesn't skimp on variety. There are no two songs on this album which sound alike, which was an issue I had with The Kids Are Alright, where everything bled into one and I found it difficult to pick songs out after I was done listening to it. But despite the different moods which are evoked there's is a consistency in the vibe. There's the really dark, heavy hitting songs such as the album opener and closer respectively, "Forgive Me" and "RYOL". Smooth R&B groovers "Baby Girl", "Do It", "Ungodly Hour" and "Lonely". High energy TLC sounding, R&B leaning Pop bangers "Tipsy" and "Busy Boy". Then swoony Motown inspired "Don't Make It Harder On Me" and "Wonder What She Thinks Of Me". Some songs hit closer to the mark than others, but despite the range of producers and the way in which the album hops between sounds, the entire thing is consistent because of the seductive energy which runs through every song and the way in which Chloe x Halle approach them. The only cut on this album which feels out of place is the song with Swae Lee, "Catch Up". This shit shoulda been left off the album completely or included as a Bonus track. In fact, no. It shouldn't have even been a bonus track. On a Swae Lee album, fine. But here it just doesn't fit and it's a real crater on this album. There's a reason why "Do It" was rolled out like it was the first single, even though "Catch Up" came before it.

There's a real sense of taste-making with Ungodly Hour to ensure it maintains a levelled sound and strikes the right notes without detracting from the talents of Chloe x Halle themselves, who also contribute to the production on some of the tracks. It would have been easy to have put Chloe and Halle in the studio with Pharrell Williams, Ilya Salmanzadeh and the usual suspects who labels with budgets be throwing 20 odd year old girls into the studio with, just to give the girls something for radio. The end result a lot of the time is a song that's usually more of a showcase for the producer than the talent whom they're producing for. But the producers on this album are not trying to chase hits, work a formula or beat their chests. They're in the cut to make good music. Scott Storch, Sounwave, Jake One, Gitty, Disclosure are very deliberate and curated choices. It's all about vibes and a feeling.

The weakest songs on the album are those which are produced by Chloe herself. The Chloe cuts aren't bad, but they feel like songs in demo forms. If there's one thing we need more of in music, it's female producers. Chloe being able to play instruments, make beats and engineer is some boss shit. But her cuts on the album lack that extra spice to make them really pop. Each of her songs have a melody or something about it that works, but with each one I was waiting for something that never came. Her songs always feel like they're ready on the starting blocks, but never set off. I hope that for Chloe x Halle's follow-up album that Chloe and the Parkwood team are more open to collaborating. Sometimes you just need that extra sauce from another person to help the vision be the best it can be. Beyoncé's Lemonade was a case of songs being passed around big ass names until the shit was right. Lady Gaga's Chromatica was made the same way. Coonye West's albums, same shit. The Chloe are joints are good. But with some refinements and co-production from the right talent, they could have been fire. But one thing I will say about Chloe's cuts is that they are growers. When I first heard to "Baby Girl" and "Tipsy" I wasn't keen on them. But after a few additional spins of the album, I came around. I look forward to hearing her grow as a producer.

Album review: Chloe x Halle - Ungodly Hour | Random J Pop

Chloe and Halle both have great voices. And what is so great about them is how different they are. Halle has a very theatrical style of singing. She hangs on her notes almost like an Opera singer and she glides over the music. Her voice is light and pretty, which provides this really nice contrast on the harder hitting songs, because it just cuts through. There is such clarity and sweetness to her voice that it's very easy to imagine her as Ariel in The Little Mermaid. Chloe on the other hand is a far more tonal singer and has a much more Pop and radio friendly voice. She's very in the pocket with the way in which she sings. She reminds me a lot of how Beyoncé sang in the earlier Destiny's Child days. The difference in their styles of singing is what makes these songs so interesting to listen to, because Chloe and Halle play off of their vocal differences just as much as they flex on how good they sound together. They not only know their own voices, but they know one another's to such a degree that they can sing around one another, through one another and with one another so effortlessly. This is something which comes across more in their live performances than it does on this album. But the sense of how well they know the musicality of their own and each other's voices most certainly comes through in their recordings. The vocal work on this album is impeccable. There were many moments where I found myself rewinding to catch a vocal moment, then leaning over to pick up my wig.

Album review: Chloe x Halle - Ungodly Hour | Random J Pop

Ungodly Hour is a nice journey, but it feels fleeting. It may have been the whole idea for it to have been given the title. But by the time the final track rolled around, I was like 'Oh shit, that's it?!'. The brevity of some of the songs isn't the issue. "Do It" works because it's brief and does what it needs to. But there are songs on this album which do npt. Album opener "Forgive Me" is a great song and opens the album with a bang, but it ends shy of a full bridge section or a beat switch. "Busy Boy" is a contender for a single and is the most radio friendly crossover song on the album. It's great. But there's this big space left at the 2 minute mark where a middle-8 or a rap should've been. There is not a bad song on this album. But there is a definite distinction for me between the songs which feel full and complete, and those which don't. "Do It" is an example of perfection. Album title track "Ungodly Hour" is another. I honestly don't get how Chloe x Halle's A&R, the legendary Teresa LaBarbera Whites wasn't pushing the girls back into the studio with Disclosure after hearing it.

Ungodly Hour truly feels like an arrival for Chloe x Halle. The Kids Are Alright wasn't a bad album, but it took at lot of listens and time for the whole thing to click. And whilst it was clear that the girls were talented, it sold potential more than anything else. Ungodly Hour may be perceived as a more conformist record by comparison, but nothing about this album feels like it's selling out or that Chloe x Halle have abandoned any version of themselves. Nothing about it diminishes Chloe x Halle's talents and unique quirks in the slightest. The Kids Are Alright lacked tightness and focus. Ungodly Hour reigns everything in. I don't know why anybody would be surprised at the sound of this album after songs like "Hi Lo", "Everywhere" and "Down".

Ungodly Hour is a package does what it needs to. The brevity and the way in which it ends leaves you wanting more. The talent is established. And it sets up a bright future for the girls which you want to follow them into to see what they deliver next.


Album highlights:
■ Forgive Me
■ Baby Girl
■ Do It
■ Ungodly Hour 🏆 J's fave
■ Busy Boy
■ Lonely
■ Don't Make It Harder On Me
■ Wonder What She Thinks Of Me

🔊 Stream Ungodly Hour: 🟢 Spotify | 🟣 Apple Music | 🔴 YouTube Music | ⚫ Tidal