On Andra Day’s ‘Cassandra (Cherith),’ a Soaring Voice Reaches Inward


Day’s 2015 debut album had a reverberant, widescreen, retro sound. By contrast, “Cassandra (Cherith)” favors focused close-ups; it heightens details, making Day’s voice more exposed and even more daring. Throughout the album, her delivery feels questing and improvisatory. She’s so sure of her melodies that she can embellish them at any moment, stretching or rushing or wriggling them as the impulse strikes.

She breezes across styles and eras. From a base in neo-soul, with hip-hop beats underpinning sinuous R&B melodies, Day also touches on jazz, Motown, jazz, bossa nova, piano rock and vintage-sounding orchestral pop. But the most important sound on Day’s album is her voice. It’s precise but uninhibited, sometimes carefree and sometimes fiercely intimate.

Cassandra is Day’s full first name (she was born Cassandra Monique Batie); Cherith is derived from the Hebrew word for “to cut away.” But many of the new album’s songs are about lingering romantic and emotional entanglements, about how difficult it is to cut away or make a clean break. By the end of the album’s sequence, Day has found some serenity, but only after navigating an emotional labyrinth: from a reluctant, backsliding separation through a thorny new start to, eventually, a purposeful self-acceptance.

In “Probably,” Day sings about wondering whether to set the record straight about a breakup with someone she still loves: “Probably tell the world that I hated you/But you know more than anyone that’s far from true.” Her hopping, gliding, cresting vocal lines treat blunt piano chords like roadblocks that she’s determined to get around, or above.

Day compares a mutually wounding relationship to drug-gang rivalries in “Narcos (H.C.D.).” Even though she observes, “Your same old tricks and my same mistakes will make things worse,” she admits, “I don’t like things to end.” The beat is obstinately slow, with a creeping bass line, while Day’s voice moves in syncopated fits and starts, almost arguing with herself. In the old-school soul ballad “Bottom of the Bottle,” she realizes “You’re bad for me/I know ’cause I’m bad for you,” but she gives in to temptation, with gauzy backup vocal harmonies easing the way.



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