Canadian multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and producer Chiiild, AKA Yonatan Ayal, slightly undersold himself when he referred to his idiosyncratic, genre-melding sound as “synthetic soul” (also the title of his 2020 debut EP). While the phrase does have a nice ring to it–and is better than the oft-cited term “alternative R&B”– it doesn’t quite capture Chiiild’s unique ability to effortlessly straddle multiple genres in his work. For an artist who has previously described how he can’t remember a time when he didn’t know how to play music, perhaps this skill is instinctive.
Influenced by a plethora of timeless musical innovators including Pink Floyd, Massive Attack, Wu-Tang Clan, Bob Marley and Fleetwood Mac, Chiiild weaves together something far more all-encompassing, combining sounds selected from across the spectrum and mixing them adeptly for a concoction that’s both pleasing and impossible to pigeon-hole. Perhaps that’s why he’s been repeatedly called upon to write and produce for a spate of wide-ranging artists, from R&B superstars Usher, Jennifer Lopez and Chloe x Halle to more mysterious yet integral industry players like Emotional Oranges and Tayla Parx. With a shrug, Chiiild is able to blend this huge hodgepodge of jazz, grunge, R&B, psychedelic rock, soul and electronic indie into a tall glass of experimentally inclined, ambient, sexy pop. This inventive collector’s approach, along with Chiiild’s self-awareness and emotional sensitivity, brings Frank Ocean to mind; another artist for whom the label “alternative R&B” doesn’t really cut it.
Following on from his 2022 album, ‘Hope for Sale’, Chiiild’s forthcoming LP, ‘Better Luck In The Next Life’, is – in his own words – “an autobiographical record”, delivering moments of introspection and revelation via a series of trippy snippets and woozy dreamscapes. Across the project’s 12 tracks, Chiiild’s vocals are always potent: rich, crisp and digitised, drifting somewhere in the space between languid and listless. The project’s production is often gauze-like, thick with distortions, reverb, and hazy layers of sonic fuzz, but even when not all the lyrics reach us, it’s rare that Chiiild’s understated emotion and sincerity doesn’t pierce through the shroud.
Chiiild’s previous success as a songwriter has clearly instilled in him a philosophy of collaboration, as he doesn’t hold back on highlighting a selection of on-the-rise voices to flesh out his lower-tempo ballads, including US R&B singer Alina Baraz and London up-and-comer Caitlyn Scarlett on sexy slow-jam ‘Hell And High Water’, and Canadian electro-pop artist Charlotte Cardin on dazed love-song ‘I Hope I Packed A Parachute’.
Lyrically, Chiiild dips back and forth from straight-talking admissions to fanciful, psychedelic imaginings. The “tangerine skies” and “kaleidoscopic eyes” of ‘Bon Voyage’ nod to the classic rock and roll of The Beatles’ ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, while a mix of soulful vocals, rocky guitar strums and skittering R&B beats bring us back to modernity. Meanwhile, ‘Good For Now’ (featuring vocals from US artist Lucky Daye) delivers a message of infatuation with sincerity, with the lyrics: “You give me more than I was asking for / You are the light, you are my only source.” It’s with this mix of song writing approaches that Chiiild keeps the album dynamic. While ‘Better Luck In The Next Life’ covers many bases, stretching across eras, genres and emotions, you get the feeling that he’s just getting started. As he embarks on his North America tour next month, there’s a sense that for this pioneering artist, bigger things lie ahead.
Words: Henrietta Taylor