Band: SZA
Album: SOS
Best song: “Ghost in the Machine” is the best song of 2022.
Worst song: “F2F” does not appeal to me

A few weeks ago, Ben Gibbard projects Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service announced a joint upcoming tour in which both bands would play their 2003 seminal albums – Transatlanticism and Give Up, respectively – in full on the tour as a way to mark the 20th anniversary of the release of the albums. I have a tortured relationship with both bands in my own mind, but I find both records to be absolute classics released during a time when I needed them. I’ve written about each (here and here), even noting that Give Up was one of the best albums of the 2000s.

Art – music included – truly exists in a place where we have trouble separating ourselves from the circumstances when we found them. I know I was in my early 20s when Transatlanticism and Give Up were released and I was deeply in love with a woman on the other side of the world (my college girlfriend was studying abroad), so Gibbard’s adolescent-y longing, Chris Walla’s melancholy Pacific Northwest David Gilmour impressions and the two band’s soft-but-melodic energy was perfect for me.

I listen to more aggressive music now, moving from progressive rock to prog metal and other extreme stuff, depending on the day. As cliché as it is to say I listen to everything, I actually mostly do that, but I like to think I’ve graduated beyond the teenage-style lyricism that Gibbard perfected and the indie thing that Death Cab did so well. I’m 41. If I have teen-like crushes on people, something is deeply broken. I’ve been a professional – mostly writing – for more than 20 years. If my brain still operates that way, I need to do more in therapy. Instead, I’ve largely graduated – in the singer-songwriter vein – to Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle and Marissa Nadler. They are more melancholy and less adolescent, more sensitive and less performatively emotional. I like to think I’ve matured.

Music transports us, sometimes, to the time and place we first experienced it. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Braid bring me to a specific place and time – senior year of high school, both at the Harvard Model Congress and at regular ol’ New Trier High School – when I poured my life into those records. I don’t pick either up much, but when I want to feel that again, I do. Some records bring new angles to me; I find new ways to appreciate The Downward Spiral with each listen and I definitely loved it when I was a kid.

So, maybe I didn’t need to hear Transatlanticism and Give Up when I did and maybe they are all-timers. I don’t know because I don’t often pick them up. Maybe I played them out in the early 2000s. Maybe the later Death Cab records soured me on Gibbard’s whole steez.


If you’re reading this, you probably know my deal. I’m middle-aged, I’m lonely and I‘m usually somewhere between depressed and anhedonic. Dogs – my dog specifically – give me fleeting moments of true happiness, music fills me with emotion, but I’ve surrendered to thinking that I know more things than I feel them. I don’t get mad, for example, at antisemitism, nor am I afraid of it because I know that I’m really only in danger when I’m in a synagogue and a lot of Judaism is home-based anyway (visibly Jewish people, of course, are at risk for physical attacks, of course, but I’m just a white guy). It just is.

SZA’s first album was a revelation to just about anyone who heard it, me included. Her voice is melodic, emotive and strong. She sounds deeply familiar and deeply unique at the same time. Her cadence is rhythmic and the beats on Ctrl are perfectly in sync with her absolute talent. Somewhere between a jazz singer and a modern pop singer, her delivery fills up the songs.

I don’t know that SOS probably isn’t a lot better than Ctrl, but it’s definitely just as good and is the best album of 2022. “Shirt” went viral on TikTok for good reason, as it showcases how she can do what Future does with slowcore-y production, only, you know, not slowed down to the point of sedatives (I love Future, by the way). It is the kind of song so perfect that not even SNL can fuck up mix on her band when she performed a clean version there a few weeks ago. “I Hate U” is more of a pop song, but it has the kind of bitter, sad and relatable lyrics SZA brings forward so well (no one can deliver “Shitty of you to make me feel just like this” like she does). “Gone Girl” lilts and flows, showcasing some of SZA’s best vocal attributes. “Low” has a deep groove and a wonderful feel for SZA’s vocal talents. “Kill Bill” is a perfect juxtaposition of SZA’s tremendous vulnerability and her biting lyricism (sample lyric: “I might kill my ex/I still love him though/Rather be in jail than alone”). “Snooze” brings the best of early 2000s slow R&B into the present, reminding me most of the best Ctrl.

But, SOS’s best song is “Ghost in the Machine.” It rivals Ctrl’s “Normal Girl” as her best song, relying on production that somehow combines staccato and swirling strings into a trip-hop-y base for SZA’s whispery perfect vocals. The lyrics are able to dance around social media, image and the yearning of emotional distance, all within a “fuck you” framework. Phoebe Bridgers brings the bridge to the song, playing off SZA’s attitude with her own detachment (“That’s so fucking boring” is Bridgers’ final line in the song).

I immediately popped on “Ghost in the Machine” when SOS came out because I love Bridgers, but this is a song that does not need her. The song immediately filled me up; I found myself singing along “I need humanity” with SZA. It brought me back to 2003-era Gibbard projects. Much to my own detriment, I cannot put into words why the song is so wonderful, rather it is something at the intersection of relatability and absolute unattainable beauty. It feels so near, but it’s simply too perfect to be such.

I’ve listened to the song, probably, 100 times. I’ve also probably listened to “Shirt” as many times. Simply, I’ve had the album going nearly every waking moment since it came out.


I wrote about Lingua Ignota and the safari nature of a lot of music and surrendering to just feeling the music and SOS brings that out. I don’t know who SZA wants the audience to be for this record; I certainly don’t imagine it’s me. But, like a lot of the best records, I simply cannot imagine someone hearing this record and saying “Ok, this sucks.” It’s simply too heartfelt, too smooth and too lovely. SZA’s vocals are too lilting, too pretty in all its forms. It’s the best record of 2022.

This entry was posted in SZA, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

    You can contact me at rjgianfortune at gmail dot com.

  • Recent Posts

  • The Bands

  • Shameless!

  • Last.Fm