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Spencer. builds his own neo-soul world on debut album ‘Are U Down?’ 

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“I’m not the type to take a bite and slow down,” lo-fi maestro Spencer. announces on the song “byyyte” to kick off his debut album, “Are U Down?,” released earlier this fall. The sentiment rings like a mission statement for the young neo-soul artist. His decree is as deliberate as the period at the end of his name.

Though he uses the 11 songs on “Are U Down?” to detail the push and pull of a relationship, it’s tempting to read Spencer.’s own origin story throughout the album’s 32 minutes.

Born Spencer Miles Allen, the enterprising musician and producer graduated in 2016 from Penfield High School, where he played trumpet in the jazz band, and spent a summer at Eastman School of Music. After a few years at SUNY Fredonia making bedroom beats, he relocated to Brooklyn.

“Are U Down?,” his first full release for storied British indie label 4AD, sighs like a summer evening on a New York City fire escape.

There is drama. Spencer.’s tender voice appears front and center on “Heart Freestyle,” the most nakedly vulnerable track, as he repeats, “Girl, you got my heart.” On “Luvs Me Not,” he bemoans a loss: “You’d rather take off than to stay with me instead.”

His soulful vocals help sell these narratives on an album preoccupied with vibe over all else. But the vibes are welcome. What makes “Are U Down?” endearing is Spencer.’s commitment to making the moods echo, letting sonic elements linger and warp like old tapes. One humid interlude is even titled “staywmecassette,” and elsewhere, he delivers the hook “Loving you, it feels like no direction” from a cozy bed of analog hiss.

Much of “Are U Down?” was written and recorded at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, which gives it an interior sensibility. Nearly every song makes use of jazzy guitar chords, like on the spritely single “MyLuv,” where they rise like smoke as soon as they’re strummed.

There are shades of contemporary R&B luminaries Thundercat and even Frank Ocean here, but Spencer. ultimately reveals himself to be his own kind of artist — a detail-oriented polyglot fluent in jazz musicology, hip-hop rhythms, and pop melodies. Though he sings the album’s title as a romantic beckon, Spencer.’s talent makes “Are U Down?” feel like an invitation to step into his musical world.

Patrick Hosken is a freelance writer for CITY. Feedback on this article can be directed to
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