My idea of summer is a little clouded after our most recent run-in. Its almost like near-complete isolation and a damn-near apocalyptic environment was a little too overwhelming for my mind to maintain its typical rejoice for the evolution of spring. Summer typically provides some of my favorite things — easing of responsibility, opportunities for mischief, warm weather, and, of course, good music. For me, there are different kinds of good music. There’s your conventional “good” music, the songs you hear on the radio or poolside or playing out of car windows: “Bodak Yellow”, “One Dance”, “Despacito”, “Boo’d Up”, the likes. Put them all on a playlist and its enough to soundtrack a couple months of escapades. Then there’s the good summer music that soundtracks your emotions in a season of heightened drama. The music you turn to on long road trips or late night drives. Or, in the summer of 2020, while confined in your home.
For me, I turned to albums in these moments opposed to playlists mostly due to the innate personability an album possesses. A good album builds a connection with a listener, one that makes the listener feel heard even if they’re the one listening. I find multiple albums I enjoy every summer, but there’s always one that is steady in the rotation. As another summer approaches and I reminisce on the albums that made previous years so memorable, I noticed a somewhat-troubling, not-all-that-concerning trend: they’ve all been break-up albums, interesting for the fact that I didn’t always have the direct experience to relate to this concept. Nevertheless, I reveled in the lyrics of despair, bitterness, and lost love. This year, thanks to Sinead Harnett’s newest, exemplary album Ready Is Always Too Late, the trend will certainly continue.
So, a little more about this trend. The initiator was a bruiser of an album, one of my all-time favorites from one Snoh Aalegra. The album, brilliantly and appropriately titled Ugh, those feels again, arrived on August 16, 2019, towards the end of a summer in which I actually had gone through a break-up. Through 14 tracks, Snoh chronologically navigates all stages of a relationship independently and thoroughly. While August may seem a little late in the season to be a soundtrack for my summer, Ugh, those feels again was the album playing in my head even when I didn’t have the music. I romanticized the relationship like Snoh does on tracks like “Whoa” and “Find Someone Like You”; I cursed attachment and all that it had brought me in complete “Charleville 9200, Pt. II” style. There were times I felt the illusion of closure led on by the inflation of my ego, mirrored in Snoh’s interpretations of “Peace” and “Njoy”. The album lived with me conceptually before it was even released. Its only grown to represent more of me as the summers pass.
Ok, its pretty reasonable for a break-up album to stand out among all the music I heard the summer following a personal break-up. This is a trend though, and trends don’t always rely on reason and convenience. My listening patterns operate under similar principles, and when Kiana Ledé’s Kiki hit the streets last April, I knew it would take me through the summer comfortably. Although I had no desire to revisit my past and had as few lingering feelings as I could hope for, I embraced Kiki’s heartbreak tales with open arms. The album shared similar themes to Ugh, those feels again but placed exaggerated emphasis on the consequences of betrayal. Ledé postures herself as strong and independent to begin the album, feeling a (perhaps falsely) heightened sense of self coming off of her failed relationship. As the record progresses, her insecurities are revealed along with her underlying urge to return to love. Her active defiance overshadows her secret impulse, a struggle I identified with subconsciously. Sure, Kiki played with my feelings a little bit, but I was holding in strong emotionally. Its just music, after all. Good music, though, and I was glad to have it through the warm months.
Summer of 2021 is here and the soul singers are back again to make me feel their pain. I felt it coming on with Joyce Wrice’s Overgrown, a spring release that, while incredible on its own, felt like a warm up for what was to come. Then we got a Gallant project. Shantel May came next. A couple H.E.R. singles. Maeta came through with a more than respectable EP. Shelley FKA DRAM re-introduced himself emphatically. Ashe tried to get involved with a debut album. A sneaky Jorja Smith project surfaced. I thought I was set for the summer. Then, the same week Olivia Rodrigo dominated the Earth with her debut album, the songstress I’ve been waiting on reveals herself. Her name is Sinead Harnett, newly declared heiress of Heartbreak Summer.
While she faced some formidable competition for the position she is in currently, it was obvious after one listen to Harnett’s album that she was deserving of the title. Her first solo release since 2019, Ready Is Always Too Late is a polished album from an artist with unquestionable intent. Vocal talent was never a question for Harnett, rather it was her songwriting that needed some focus. RIATL addresses this critique wonderfully, sprung with ballads and sultry sounds that reflect the romantically inspiring and troubling nature of the season it arrives in. “Hard 4 Me 2 Love You” is an all-too-relatable song for anyone who has gone through the trials and tribulations of a relationship, the track’s melancholy piano driving the painful, resistant hope in Harnett’s voice, the same emotions buried in personal memories of the past. She can take you as low as you can go in reflection only to inspire you with her enticing tales of love, varying in intimacy and seduction. The feature list is not only impressive superficially, but every performer is up for the task and is a categorical fit. Whether its EARTHGANG’s Johnny Venus getting sentimental on the back end of the spacey “Take Me Away”, Lucky Daye playing his part to a T on the masochist-pleasing “Anymore” (“I miss the way it hurts,” he croons on the track.), or the valued contributions of VanJess and Masego on the sensually uplifting track “Stickin’”, performances are consistent across the board. There’s just so much to love about this album: Harnett’s growth, the thematic album title, the beautifully dramatic cover art, the aesthetic synchronization of the music videos, the music.
What I love about Ready Is Always Too Late and other candidates is that they don’t overcomplicate things. The average running time of Ugh, those feels again, Kiki, and RIATL is 41 minutes, all three albums staying true to a particular narrative and building on it with each song. The concepts aren’t complex, the stories not too hard to grasp, and the emotions are tangible. All three women have incredible control over their voices, holding clear possession of their perspective in their music. While comparable, none of these albums sound the same. They are all able to explore the same ideas through their own sound and artistic vision. I can’t pick a favorite, but I will promise each artist a spot in my top 3 albums in this conversation.
Ready Is Always Too Late is not a perfect R&B album but an ideal one, strengthening the lineage of summertime heartbreak albums I will undoubtedly be playing whenever possible. All praise the Heartbreak Summer heiress, Sinead Harnett.