Keep Cool / RCA · February 5, 2021
With a synchronicity reminiscent of Brandy and Monica on their 1998 track “The Boy is Mine,” VanJess bring the feeling of ‘90s nostalgia on their new album Homegrown. Although the album’s name might sound like it’s about pickup trucks driving down backroads, it oozes the sexuality and ease that is essential in every great R&B album. It flows like waves, and the end of each track is pulled into the beginning of the next seamlessly.
The sultry saxophone notes and seductive vocals on Songs like “Come Over,” “Slow Down,” and “Come Over Again” are just a few of the highlights from the album. KAYTRANADA adds his own neo-soul flair to the song “DYSFUNCTIONAL.” Too many features on an album can make it sound disjointed like a mixtape, but the production of the album and the collaborations with other artists like Phony Ppl and Devin Morrison accentuate VanJess’ individual style. They create a unique yet familiar sound in each of the nine tracks on the album – each track could accompany TLC and Janet Jackson on Spotify’s “‘90s Babymakers” playlist.
Compositionally, the album is really interesting, since the duo uses a central theme of late night hookups and the story ends in a full circle. This method of storytelling is very effective for an album. Thinking about it being played on a record is the best way to see the effect this style creates. The album starts with the song “Come Over,” which talks about wanting a late night hookup, and ends with the same song but in a different style. “Come Over Again” is all about how good that first time was and how much they want it to happen again. The remix of the song is slower and even more longing than the first version of the song. It’s implied that the lust and desperation for continued late-night hookups is really the point of the use of the two songs. The story that VanJess tell in Homegrown is not about love but instead about continued lust, and this album would be more dimensional if the duo did talk more about emotional vulnerabilities instead of just meaningless sex.
Although their sound is extremely familiar, it still feels refreshing. The late-night sexual energy is something that was left out of a lot of albums that came out since the beginning of the pandemic. VanJess avoid bringing COVID or quarantine into their lyrics, which is an admirable choice, since it makes the album more universal and timeless. It can be hard to find such ease in recent pieces, but VanJess masterfully create tracks that would fit anywhere from the early ‘80s to the present day. They also cleverly add the ‘70s aesthetic to their music videos: in “Come Over,” the duo sport afros and bell bottom jeans, and disco balls swirl behind them during their performance. Homegrown is unmatched by any other recent R&B album, and VanJess need to get the credit they deserve for such a timeless creation.