If there was an essential guide to making a debut album, delivery would deserve a chapter or two. Choosing how to structure lyrics, select words and manage tone are the ties that bind each track to both the tape and the artist’s identity. If the album is a house, then the artist’s delivery is one of its many pillars – you might not notice the underlying craftsmanship once the house is completed, but it nevertheless provides the framework from which to build.
New Haven, Connecticut singer Norman Perry laid his musical groundwork on his debut album, Play by Play, released January 12, 2018. On a featureless 14 tracks, Perry commits to measured delivery draped in lusciously haunting production that provides the basis for his musings on love, hate and personal growth.
Leading into the track list with “Royal Sonesta” Perry establishes Play by Play’s roadmap. “I Gotta take it day by day, gotta take it play by play,” he sings in something of an elevated whisper. The slow and steady approach he preaches drips into his delivery; rarely, does Perry push his tempo and grate against the strolling production, provided by the likes of Walz and Classic Douglass. And when he chooses to, as he does on “Codeine Texts (Interlude)”, it serves as a respite to draw listeners back into his breathy vocals.
Play by Play succeeds because of its uniform presentation from top to bottom. The final track, “Reign”, summarizes Perry’s noninvasive approach. “Getting money can you hear the reign? Getting money drowning out my pain,” encapsulates the album’s watery texture that, despite Perry’s self-reflective, tone never floods the tape with narcissism or vanity. Sure, Perry claims on “Different Women” that “they gon’ replay this just to see if they get mentioned,” but his tenderly delivered lyrics keep the project listenable while absolving him of egregious self-absorption.
The vocal consistency Perry flaunts isn’t indicative of a newcomer. His style sounds to have been explicitly crafted, a testament to his balanced performance on his 2017 EP, XX. Earnestly addressing his shortcomings, Perry saunters into relatable territory, such as when he laments a spurned love on “Missing You.” “Cause I’m trying to make up for that/ Cause I can’t fight the feeling I need you back/ And I’m right here where we left it at/ I can’t front girl, I did you bad,” continues Perry’s approachable self-awareness that acts as a hallmark of the tape.
As with any structure, the foundation is only the beginning. Perry can continue on the path he treads, a path lined with dreamy production and soothing vocals. Or he can break out his toolkit and build a new listening experience. With a flow that can dip between song and rap with out gaudy dissonance, Perry has the makings of an R&B staple.