Andreya Triana has been bubbling under the surface of the UK’s down-tempo scene for a few years now. After scoring a few breaks on producer albums and jazz-based compilations in 2008, however, Triana quickly went to work on her own solo material. This year, she re-emerged with the single “Lost Where I Belong”, remixed by Flying Lotus for maximum exposure. Triana was also the only live voice present on Bonobo’s Black Sands release this summer, which earned wide praise for both its artistic focus and Triana’s vocal turns. While her work with electronic artists may have altered the expectations for some coming across this album, there is not much here that alludes to that work. For the most part, Lost Where I Belong is a fairly straight-up jazz pop affair.
In an overall sense, this is sort of disappointing. The title track and lead single is fantastic — over a real dope bop bass line, Triana lays out the mental state of an artist uncomfortable in her own comfort zone. The track is reminiscent of Norah Jones’ loungey take on vocal jazz, though Triana adds hints of melodrama in the places Jones might go for whimsy or coyish flirtations. “A Town Called Obsolete” takes the conceit higher, adding inflections of a funky horn section as Triana carries the album towards its next highlight, The Bends-style lounge downer “Darker than Blue”. Here she takes her vocals to especially gloomy levels, singing in a mumbled near-whisper that feels like something of an anti-Thom Yorke, especially when the song reaches its climax and transitions to the pastoral “Daydreamers”.
What makes this stuff disappointing is that Triana has a pretty voice, balanced somewhere between the British boisterousness of an Amy Winehouse or, more closely, Duffy, and the more hushed tones of America’s current Starbucks jazz machine spearheaded by Miss Jones. And she has a seductive, dark club quality throughout the album that suits her perfectly; one gets the feeling her show is a great one for low-key dates or lonely pub crawls. But when it comes to the songs underneath the performance, or the ideas of the performance itself, Triana often seems more comfortable matching her peers than determining how to outwit them. It leaves Lost Where I Belong in the uncomfortable position of hosting one standout single and then a bunch of songs that sound somewhat similar to each other. It’s hard to walk away from Lost Where I Belong with a strong understanding of what Triana brings to the table that others don’t, or to avoid wishing that Triana had used her Ninja Tune connections to craft a more expansive, challenging set of songs.
At just nine songs and under 40 minutes of playing time, it’s hard to be too tough on this girl because it’s a well-done set. The lack of meat on the frame is obvious, but so too is the lack of fat. Lost Where I Belong certainly isn’t lacking in focus, it simply seems to be a tentativeness or lack of ambition that forces Lost Where I Belong to ultimately languish in an ever-growing sea of vocal jazz revivalists. The music here is very self-contained and confident, and thanks to its consistency, Lost Where I Belong will be an album for many that can be thrown on without worry over skipping a track here or there. But it may also come and go as an album that feels good while it’s running, but reaches its end without ever truly gripping listeners and forcing them to level with Triana, to match her emotion. “Up in the Air” returns to the funk influences that helped invigorate “A Town Called Obsolete”, but it only throws into stark reality how dreary and uniform the preceding 20 minutes or so were. There is plenty of professionalism and talent on display with Lost Where I Belong; next time around, it’d be nice to have just a little more heart.