ZICO’s April single, “She’s a Baby”, is a slow burn that needs a few listens in order to reveal the subtleties of its crafting and the thoughtfulness of its musical decisions. I didn’t initially give this song much of a chance despite adding it to my May 2017 playlist but after it surreptitiously played through a few times, I realized that this slumbery but sweet track was more than meets the eye (ear), becoming one of my favorite April releases two months after the fact.
You would think a song this low key wouldn’t be too interesting. The combination of lo-fi guitar, subdued keyboard, jazzy drums and bass, and soft vocals is reminiscent of the more underground ambient sound I’m used to hearing on SoundCloud or YouTube–more concerned with a song’s ability to evoke an emotional response of nostalgia or rose-colored musings than anything else. “She’s a Baby” captures this mood well but pulls it more towards pop/R&B territory through an interesting and evolving sonic arrangement of crisp tonal and melodic choices (which ZICO, DEAN, and PopTime all had a part in crafting). Each verse is distinct from the one that came before it, both instrumentally and vocally. The first is a little shaky and unsure, an introduction that builds perfectly to a hook that is soft and subdued, consisting only of guitar and bass. When the second verse hits, the instrumentation and vocals evolve, becoming more layered and complex and both the singing style and the added jazz-style drum convey an attitude of smooth and building confidence. By the time we reach the second run of the chorus, ZICO introduces a more digitized and hard hitting beat, thereby adding more complexity to the soundscape and the decision is both interesting and surprising although in retrospect it makes sense in the overall arrangement of the track. He switches things up a little in the third verse, a bridge highlighting his skills as a rapper, as the instrumentation comes together at its most produced to create more of a thumping heartbeat than anything necessarily melodic. This creates a satisfying contrast as the outro plays, half of the main hook with the most subdued production of the entire song: playful high guitar and jazz bass at its simplest but with vocals at their loudest and most confident.
“She’s a Baby” is particularly impressive because the instrumentation and arrangement seem at first overly simple: a clean and satisfying production but overall boring track. But it constantly builds, evolves, and shifts, never going exactly where you thinks it’s going to go. The melodic line of the chorus was the same throughout, yes. But the instrumentation of each run of the hook was unique from the others and each verse brought a new perspective to the overall soundscape of the track, especially vocally. There is never a copy paste moment, allowing me, the listener, moments of subtle surprise and satisfaction. And that’s just solid songwriting.
Sidenote: The music video is pretty cool as well…