Syd plays "Fin" off as a shallow stopgap release between Internet albums, but her confidence is also responsible for a strong set of songs.
When artists talk about their soon-to-be-released albums, they usually speak in grandiose or mysterious terms: "It's a movie," "It's a concept album," "It's gonna fuck the game up." When Syd was asked about her almost-finished solo debut to The Fader last October, she described it as “not that deep." She went on to clarify that Fin was to be "an in-between thing-- maybe get a song on the radio, maybe make some money, have some new shit to perform," but it was still a little weird how casually she was treating her "going solo" moment.
The once-shy Odd Future DJ and engineer has struggled with anxiety in the past, so at the time it was unclear whether nerves or cockiness led to Syd downplaying her own work, but now that Fin has arrived, the answer's obvious. That same confidence is exuded by the album's well-curated 38 minutes-- in its effortlessly cool songwriting, in its courageous venturing into the realm of early 2000s R&B, and especially in Syd's vocals, which have never been better.
Over the last eight years, Syd (fka "tha Kid") has let her many talents blossom, first recording and engineering Tyler The Creator and Vince Staples at her home studio, then producing the majority of Mike G's 2011 tape Ali, then singing on and producing albums as The Internet with Matt Martians, and most recently expanding that project into a full band on 2015's excellent Ego Death. She seems to have no problem adapting to new roles or teaching herself new skills, but for a time, she was her own worst enemy. “I used to get the worst anxiety before Odd Future shows because I didn’t know how to DJ either, I taught myself that shit right before I did it," she said in that same Fader interview, later remarking, "I knew that if I just came out as a singer, people would just be criticizing my voice." Although Syd may still struggle with these issues, the days when they negatively affected her work certainly seem to be over.
Fin begins and ends with queasy moments Syd of second-guessing herself: the album opens with the line, "I’m drowning in doubt and frustration/Can't sleep cause I’m anxious," and the closer tells of a relationship Syd was trapped in only because of her insecurities. Both are quickly resolved though, via shaking off the negativity and finally getting up the courage to leave, respectively. It's a perfect way to bookend the album-- first she resolves to start living a clear-headed life, then by the end she realizes what outside factors continue to hold her back-- but between points A and B lies only the most effortless flexing, fucking, and crew-repping. Proud camaraderie is perhaps the album's biggest theme, with lyrics like "This for my young'ns and cousins, I turn nothing to something" and "Take care of the family that you came with" speaking to the supportive, collective environment of Syd's house in L.A. She also bosses up on the romantic front, trading the shy, softly-cooed come-ons of old Internet songs into demands to "keep it on the low" or "leave the lights on" or "say my name" or, bluntly, "shake it for these dollar bills." Syd's sexuality, like her musical ability, is no longer something she'll keep quiet about until it's noticed by an outside party.
The music matches this cockiness, veering from trap beats to Timbaland workouts to vintage slide guitar without disrupting the subdued mood. Syd and her squad of producers pull from modern R&B's sexiest, most intoxicating realms-- Velvet Rope-era Janet Jackson, slow-grind Destiny's Child tracks, Aaliyah deep cuts, even some dvsn-style trap-soul-- but almost entirely avoid outright pastiche. Fin's neither as retro as Ego Death nor as soupy and psychedelic as The Internet's previous albums, and Syd's voice is the most up-front and least reverby it's ever been, decidedly the project's lifeblood despite contributions from producers who have the potential to steal the scene like Hit-Boy, Rahki, and Melo-X.
The only section where Syd's writing falters is in the mid-album one-two punch of "Got Her Own" and "Drown in It," when she leans too heavily on clichés of I.N.D.E.P.E.N.D.E.N.T. women and listing all of the verbs you'd like to do in the pussy (the latter becoming pedestrian and passé at the exact moment that Young Thug promised to "Ride in that pussy like a stroller"). Then again, there's definitely something to be said for a queer person reappropriating straight tropes. Another example of that is "Dolla Bills," which at first seems awkward, but if you can get past a strip club joint sounding like a J. Cole track, it's a fun and well-written song.
Fin's finest moment, the at-first breezy, eventually-rockin' "Insecurities," is saved for last. On it, Syd begins by sounding like Solange on A Seat at the Table, and concludes it doing an uncanny impression of Beyoncé on "Don't Hurt Yourself." Comparisons to both Knowles sisters on one song is about the highest praise I can think of for a budding R&B artist, so we'll leave it at this: Fin runs the gamut of subtle, blue-hued R&B while expanding and amplifying Syd's voice, and it never once sounds like karaoke.