The term "Superhuman" is defined by Webster as having powers above those and beyond those of mankind, and exceeding normal human ability or experience. In her aptly titled sophomore album, soulstress Porsche Smith delivers a sensational masterpiece that fully embraces these definitions while boldly transcending the boundaries of soul music. Superhuman will test your music acumen to its limits, however Smith's soothing alto is like a mother seeing an infant off on its first steps, when you think she's let you drift too far off, she uses her vocal as a foundation that is both soothing and reassuring. Also, having both written and produced the entire album, there is an organic feel that is rooted in the soul. Superhuman is both an intimate and intricate listen, and it feels good.
The album kicks off seemingly in outer space with The Science, an eclecticly sonic groove that explains the inner workings of creation, our psyche, and how they all relate over a galactic score that reflects the existence of a power greater than us, or as the chorus goes "it's the science of the unexplainable, yet we gotta know that we're all here from some place afar, do you know who you are?" A bold platform from which to launch and the album doesnt stop there. Smith goes straight into Brite Lights, a tune that will feel familiar to Coldplay fans. Here she manages to balance inspiration and emulation, making the style her own while delivering candid lyrics "I'm leaving all my limelight dreams behind me, i see the true light and it's far more blinding, the truth of who I am and what's inside me, treasures within, i'm finding." Brite Lights is a breath of fresh air in the mundaneness of current soul music. Supercalifraudulistic brings us safely down to earth as a classic neo soul ditty lamenting the effects of letting down one's guard for an imposter of love, "Silly me for walking around with rose colored glasses." Renowned trumpeter Dre King weaves an excellent accompaniment throughout this tale of regret and delusion and caps it with a wistful solo.
It is at this point in the album that Smith begins to spread her wings, or perhaps flex her maestro muscles, taking us on a journey through pop rock, acoustic ballads, jazz and even big band. She goes all the way in on the Justin Lyon's assisted Jonah, a sure handed venture into pop rock that is a funky surprise. Porsche displays great versatility without losing too much of herself, while Lyon's delivers a riveting solo to punctuate Smith's expressions of frustration. Lead single Fly Away, carries us safely from electric funk, to the acoustic richness of a wispy ballad reminiscent of Corrine Bailey Rae or India. Arie. It is a more familiar sound for listeners to cling to, and while love songs like it have been done before, Smith has the uncanny ability to inject her own flavor, even into well worn ideas, and thus Fly Away is beautifully written, and should be a favorite.
Soon and Very Soon is where the album takes a slight dip, the jazz stylings intend to display more of Smith's versatility, although admittedly the song may get monotonous. The instrumentation at times overshadows Smith's vocals and even when the song picks up the pace double time midway through, I fear she may lose less-devoted listeners by that point. Still a high point, if you can make it through, is the dreamy breakdown at the end that is the type of treat every neo-soul enthusiast lives by.
From jazz to big band swing, Birds makes use of Smith's all girl ensemble Beauty and the Beats and the ladies deliver an engaging listen. Smith and Beats vocalist Cherish Love recap stories of a damsel and dude who play up their personas, to cover flaws to their detriment, while Natasha Rogers delivers an amazing three in one performance on trumpet, piano and bass. At this point Smith's musical prowess and insight cannot be denied.
Delusions is a heartfelt interlude that thrives on a thumping heartbeat of percussion and weeping guitars that is just enough to leave you wanting more, While Mr. and Mrs. Egocentric is a mid tempo warning to those who seek to take advantage of the people who care about them the most. However it is the title track that allows Porsche Smith to display why she is an acclaimed upcoming writer and songstress. Superhuman is a transparent admission of limitation, reality, and weakness when it comes to love. A candid view of how one can only be so much despite best intentions. Such ballads are no longer the norm in today's music scene and Smith delivers a powerful, gospel-tinged vocal that stands out as a true display of her exceptional songwriting and vocal control.
Finally not fitting to leave anyone out, Smith cranks things up with hip hop fused Microwave and the reggae influenced Ready When He Comes, Smith unleashes a lyrical lashing on Microwave a clever hip hop track featuring emcees Van Gammon, Bavu, Jay Curtis, ATL duo Snub and Imago Dei of Bare Essentials. Each emcee delivers witty perspectives of the current state of hip hop's fast food star making process, and Smith, or “P. Smitty” as she's known on this track, holds her own with clever lines "funny how the fame and money change ya/gain the world open up ya souls for labor." It is on Ready however that Smith may have crowned herself with the "Eclectic Empress" label. Amidst adlibs from jamaican hype man Grand Supreme, Smith croons a Marley-esque warning to those who procrastinate in the straightening of their lives. Quite frankly Ready is one definite stand out gem that should turn heads and tickle ears.
Having displayed her entire repertoire, Smith returns to her roots with another soulful interlude in Here, and ends the Superhuman experience with quite possibly the most intimate spoken word ode to the Creator ever written in YHWH Supreme. Captivating, reverent, and provocative she writes 'everything i need/ my God, strength, life, mother, brother, father, lover/ you are the air i breathe.' A relationship with God doesn't get more indepth than that, and Smith's passionate expression is infectious, another gem for repeat.
Superhuman may be the musical embodiment of being in this world but not of it, as Smith does not apply any particular formula to her approach, which in some places works out very well (Supercali, The Science, Birds, Superhuman, YHWH Supreme, Ready) and in some others not as well (Soon and Very Soon) yet still there are no particular flaws. The album is well written, impeccably produced and the instrumentation itself provides reason enough for repeated play. A listener's only issue may be the many places Smith takes you but it is all rooted in soul, and quite frankly, it is all good. I would implore one to sit back, listen, and enjoy the ride, you may find yourself expanding into musical realms you would not have normally experienced, and somehow I believe that is the point.