Nao: And Then Life Was Beautiful review – joy and hope amid the pandemic

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(Little Tokyo Recordings/Sony Music)
Plenty of new albums are considering life with Covid, but few of them are as sensual and gorgeous as this

No sooner had lockdown begun than the musical responses came. Over the last 18 months, we’ve had everything from heartstring-tugging fundraising tributes to essential workers, to Eminem dutifully comparing himself to coronavirus, to the miserable sound of Van Morrison metaphorically marching through London with a homemade placard lambasting Chris Whitty. It’s a phenomenon that shows no signs of abating, and why would it? A huge proportion of the new albums released in 2021 will have been made during the pandemic, and it would take a pretty superhuman effort to avoid the circumstances of their creation seeping into their contents.

So it is with the third album by Neo Joshua, or Nao as she prefers to be known. The first words that come out of her mouth on this album are: “Change came like a hurricane, 2020 hit us differently.” But And Then Life Was Beautiful’s opening title track offers an interesting take on recent events. Its sound isn’t sad or claustrophobic or wistful but airy and dreamlike, almost euphoric: high keyboards arcing around a misty guitar figure and sumptuous backing vocals. Amid the lyrics about hope coming someday and the desire to “smoke it out until it fades away”, Nao suggests lockdown may have had another side to it: a pause that enabled people to “know what matters to you … a moment just to think about all that is you”.

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