As the debut album for Swedish-Gambian singer Seinabo Sey, Pretend does a good job of defining the direction she wanted to take; as an artist looking to break genre conventions, there are certainly attempts made to break through her soul music roots and bring in elements of other genres. It doesn’t truly succeed at breaking into a unique sound, fitting into a soul pop sound that we’ve definitely heard before, but it’s also a sound that works well for her, and makes for a genuinely enjoyable album.
Younger provides the album’s biggest mixture of sounds, opening on Sey’s soulful voice and a droning organ before adding an electronically altered vocal loop for the chorus, and later introducing strings and marching drums into the mix; the elements all work decently together and culminate into an interesting pop song, but nothing majorly amazing. Quite a few songs on the album follow the same suit, mixing interesting elements together into songs that are okay, but never really break through into anything truly exciting.
The few songs that do manage to break through and capture your interest are truly amazing, though. Words is a fitting example, with its stabbing strings and energetic but understated percussion making for something simple and engaging that still has the pop factor to it. The sparkling synths and funky chorus of Who mix electronic elements and soul perfectly to make for the album’s catchiest track. The album’s most unrivalled soul moment, Burial, mixes pianos and organ with a complete choir backing Sey up; far more traditional than its partners, but also far more enjoyable.
Pretend has its fair share of ups and downs over the course of its hour run time, and averages out somewhere around the middle ground rather than the top. Its standout tracks are what make it worth the listen; they tie the album together, and show off the full potential that Sey has to offer. In the grand scheme of things Pretend is an album definitely worth listening to, but acts more like a sign of great things to come than anything else.