The London-based songstress Cherie Jones-Mattis, better known as JONES, may be just 25, but she sings with a voice wiser than her years — and, in a cluttered landscape, full of forgettable new faces whose careers will be shorter than Vine videos, manages to cut through. Singer Sam Smith, on hearing Indulge, the EP she released last year, felt compelled to tell his millions of Instagram followers: “Fucking beautiful. Highly recommended.” Spotify, in turn, anointed her a 2016 spotlight artist. Now, on her debut studio album, New Skin, JONES delivers sultry, sage advice with angelic stacked harmonies. Her musings on love, loss, and the transformations both bring employ the playful and delicate delivery of a highly realized artist.
The album itself is a smooth and entertaining listen, a well-blended mix of electronic music and soul, with strong pop sensibilities. It begins with a bang: “Indulge” (the title track from her EP) and “Hoops,” another prior release, both use driving drums, processed synths, and airy reverb to buoy her wistful vocals. “Melt,” the last of the already released singles, adds giddiness to this introductory mix, its bright chords finding life atop a pretty great bass guitar line.
From there the record ventures into newer territory, and this material is just as strong. “Out of This World” starts with a sparsely melodic backdrop that turns into an anthemic chorus of oohs that will quickly have you singing along. But the best example of JONES’s vocal prowess can be found on “Walk My Way”: Exploring that twingeing sense of longing we’ve all felt (“Smiling with this arrow in my chest/I’ll keep waiting”), she deploys a sly, spirited tone reminiscent of early Solange. It’s the record’s most danceable track, a tale of love-lust from the perspective of the unwanted, complete with swirling harps and a driving four-on-the-floor beat that almost turns the song’s melancholy topic into an afterthought.
New Skin wrestles with fairly common themes, but it sounds invigorated, in part through contributions from Lana Del Rey collaborator Justin Parker and Rodaidh McDonald, who is usually producing for Savages or handling mixing duties for the xx. The title track lands last, and deals directly with coming into your own: It’s the tale of a person coming face to face with themselves, only to realize they aren’t who they once were. The opening lyric (“Swimming in the deep blue/Living out of reach”) paints JONES as a person striving for more and fighting like hell to get it. It’s a tough spot to maneuver because it’s such a universal one, but she sings about it sweetly and optimistically enough to reveal the bright side of growth: change.