Teased back in 2021 – with recording sessions stretching back even further to 2019 – the journey to bring ‘In Pieces’ to life hasn’t been without a few road bumps. A convoluted roll out, contentious features and a slew of scrapped singles meant we didn’t quite know when and what to expect of her creative breakaway from sister-act, Chloe x Halle.
‘In Pieces’ is a solid introduction to Chlöe’s more explicit RnB-pop oeuvre; an anxious, anguished and frenetically-paced crossover project. On opener ‘Someone’s Calling’, Chlöe harmonically intones a midnight aria over a sample of Louis Armstrong’s 1952 jazz classic – a cradle song her Grandfather used to sing to her. This consecrated moment and the transition into the ecstatic gospel-trap of ‘Pray It Away’, leads us to the incantatory dramatics that spans across ‘In Pieces’.
Prayer, both intimate and ceremonial, guides Chlöe from a place of self-loathing to salvation. But temptation is only a phone call away. Numb to the pain, Chlöe displays cool apathy through the brighter tone of her head voice, often modulated and wreathed in autotune. Her words convey a cruise control shift into autopilot mode as she gives into carnal pleasures. On highlight ‘Body Do’, she’s the one assuming command; aloof, with her heart disconnected, Chlöe romps with an ex over a crunk-meets-bounce party-down beat, unable to resist that familiar feeling. On the pacesetting afro-anthemics of ‘I Don’t Mind’ – the right choice for next single – she’s momentarily at peace with her partner being enamoured with her once again.
Chloe’s strength has always been her vocal production, a master conductor splicing and patching together harmonies into tight, intricate lattices. She shines most when her voice is given space to convey the fragility of her public and private faces: how the burden of the roles she plays as a lover, friend, sister and an aspirational star to many, weighs heavy. Of her own life, the internal and the larger-than-life persona become at times inseparable. The title track is laid out as dialogue between her and a partner she can’t give up, but the pared-back piano ballad could easily be a plea to herself and her own self-preserving power.
Only 37 minutes long, ‘In Pieces’ is brisk and breathless. The first half is more evenly paced, and a handful of songs midway through amount to faint sketches and not the fully-formed technicolour portraits they should be. ‘Fallin 4 U’ recalls Brandy’s ‘Focus’ in its deep-toned ambient atmospherics, home to a spoken-word exchange where an unknown woman acknowledges her iron will. It warrants more detail, as does the fleeting grimy breakdown on ‘Feel Me Cry’, which coasts along listlessly up until that metallic glitch.
On ‘In Pieces’, Chlöe injects her wounded vulnerability with fire and fury. It’s a functional entry in Chlöe’s already-impressive pantheon of works. Here’s hoping this release frees her up to lean more zealously into her production quirks when the next solo experiment beckons.
Words: Shahzaib Hussain