Boomkat Product Review:
‘Exit Simulation’ is the startling debut from South Carolina's Heather Sinclair aka Niecy Blues, who makes a dramatic entrance using the language of ambient, trip-hop and dream pop to ink her own signature on gospel, R&B and melancholy soul. One of the most convincing debut albums in recent memory, consider it essential listening if you're into KeiyaA, Grouper, Erykah Badu, Dawuna, or Kelela.
Sinclair spent her childhood in the confines of a religious cult in Oklahoma, and on 'Exit Simulation', she confronts and upends the hypnotic power of church music by melting it into seemingly incongruous strands of atmospheric sensuality and romance. In 13 parts, Sinclair layers her voice into weightless purrs, singing over traces of percussion and ghosted loops. There's ambient music in there somewhere, but it isn't wallpaper to be ignored, instead it’s presented as an intensely physical sound that reaches inside the body and wraps itself around the heart.
Sinclair merges foggy trip-hop with symphonic R&B on standout track 'U Care', singing with the range of Brandy and the timeless oddness of Martina Topley-Bird, while an uneven beat lopes over gossamer guitar. Her songs don't jerk and flex, they melt and liquefy, starting in one place and weeping into another before you've realised it. Here, the song's abstract elements hit a foggy crescendo, before Sinclair fades them into a charged gospel, rooting us in her personal experience.
The title track is another emotional surrender led by melted vocals recorded close to emphasise a tonal shift. Sinclair’s use of reverb is particularly impressive, she doesn't drown out her voice to disguise it, instead using it to motion us towards vast halls of worship. "I get so tired," she coos over levitational, Eno-esque pads and muted plucks, sounding like Erykah Badu played at half speed. On ‘Exits’ Mary Lattimore’s harp marks the end of the first half, encouraging a slow intake of breath before the emotional exhale of the second.
What's most astonishing is that Sinclair manages to preserve a singular mood while pushing her sound to its limits. 'Soma' oozes from celestial dream-soul into spiritual jazz, sounding like the Windy & Carl x Don Cherry hookup we never knew we needed, 'Lament' granulates grotty industrial sounds into seismic, sub-heavy vibrations, and 'The Architect' takes a stuttering, lo-fi beatbox and lets it rattle confusingly underneath impeccable harmonies. The masterful level of variation reveals Sinclair’s keen ear; she grew up surrounded by church music, and she's here somehow managed to draw peculiar parallels between Gospel and experimental dimensions that don’t for a moment feel at odds with one another.
As a debut, it’s incredibly fully formed and resolved, making for an effortless but uniquely incorporeal listening experience. Whether you're spiritual or not, we’d wager you’ll find ‘Exit Simulation’ transformative too.