Don’t Look Down was a strong album from Skylar Grey. Whether you remember it for the sarcastic sexuality of its first single C’mon Let Me Ride with Eminem or the varied hip-hop influenced pop tracks that littered the album, there was barely a dead moment to mention on it, and even less negative things to say about it. Regardless, it’s blatantly clear that the stakes are even higher for Natural Causes, having to follow up such a strong album, and it doesn’t hold back in trying to top what came before.
In terms of setting the mood, the album’s first full song Jump does this perfectly. The song makes perfect use of its sparse arrangement, revolving around a very minimal beat and hand clap combo backed by a repeating guitar line that moves the song forward as Grey sings over the top. As an angelic collection of vocal layers accompany her for the chorus, the song hits its peak, barely changing in style but soaring above the verses thanks to its newfound lightness, before its gritty guitar solo brings the song back into darker territory towards the end. Its minimalism is very indicative of the rest of the album, showing it off best here in one of the album’s true highlight moments. That’s not to say that the rest suffers in comparison, though.
Even while remaining minimal, the album changes its songs up in important ways that keeps it interesting yet conceptually tight. Lemonade mixes a trap beat with the strum of an acoustic guitar for a strange mixture of styles that culminates into a hazy chorus that melds the opposing styles to Grey’s near-rap vocals perfectly. Straight Shooter is the album’s most straightforward urban moment, with Grey’s quick vocal delivery in the verses and the chorus’ solid hook powering the song forward, only stopping for the slower bridge, where Grey’s chorus of vocal layers comes back to accompany her for an out of character moment of beautiful vocals that counters the aggressive chorus.
Jump finally meets its match near the album’s end on Picture Perfect. The recurring layers of angelic vocals are an ever-present force in the song, which mixes trap beats and a constant bass line with small interludes of buzzing synths and accompanying guitar, making for a similarly airy track, albeit one with a more consistent beat and theme to it. Similarly, We Used to Be Bad is the best of the album’s acoustic-leaning moments, opening with an acoustic guitar and brass accompaniment before slowly expanding into a wall of synths and melodic drum beats, showing amazing progression from something simple into one of the most powerful arrangements on the album.
If these tracks are the album’s stronger half, however, the rest is the amazing back-up that keeps it so consistent and forceful throughout its twelve track runtime. From the nod to Imogen Heap’s Hide and Seek on the a capella vocally edited intro Wilderness to the acoustic piano finale Closer, no track leaves a bad impression or even slips from your mind after listening to the album. It’s a non-stop onslaught of perfectly produced tracks, lacking the collaborations of Don’t Look Down but showing off Grey’s full solo potential because of this. Skylar Grey has hands down created her best material yet on Natural Causes, and created a veritable masterpiece that will be remembered long after 2016 is behind us.