Maryland duo April+Vista’s debut release, Lanterns, was a well-received record whose ambient, avant-garde R&B offerings nonetheless left some critics scratching their heads. But the group’s new EP, Note to Self, is a more focused effort showcasing the duo’s good taste in selecting the most essential elements to make a song memorable.
“Daggers” begins the EP with scattered keyboard flourishes, pattering percussion, and April George’s flowing vocals. Producer Matt Thompson then drops a firm beat around which all these free-form elements coalesce. The timing couldn’t be more perfect; the beat focuses the random high-hat hits like a magnet, and they prick away at the rhythm like tiny daggers at the exact moment George sings the lines “All these daggers cutting through my reality/all my sanity is nonexistent when you are near.” This attention to detail best illustrates how sharp and focused the duo has become.
“Beasts” pushes the EP forward with more muscular production. Released in early July to wide-acclaim, the song was Note’s first single and an accurate precursor for their musical direction. Its sound is innovative but accessible. George’s vocals are bold and melodic, her delivery staccato and pointed to prove she means what she says when she sings of “the promises that doubt has laid to rest.”
In contrast to George’s direct performance, Thompson’s production is subtly-layered. The repetitive keyboard hook and propulsive beat are obvious, but after a few listens, the swinging guitar lines and other synth flourishes float up from underneath. “Voices” is similar in its straightfoward arrangement. There’s less going on in the song, but the light instrumentation leaves appropriate space for the percussive melody and rich harmonies.
The last song, “Touch,” is so airy it almost feels like an afterthought. It’s short (as are all the songs, each clocking in at under three minutes) but effective in its sparseness. “One single touch, that’s all I need from you,” sings George over a lone keyboard, and that one line sinks in and repeats itself long after the song abruptly ends. While it certainly takes hard work and talent, sometimes it doesn’t take a lot of stuff to make music this catchy. April+VISTA proves that note after note on Note to Self.