Chloe and Halle Bailey were barely teenagers when their YouTube cover of Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts” became a viral hit, winning the attention of the pop superstar herself, who signed them to her Parkwood label, featured them on the Lemonade visual album, and took them on her Formation tour as her opening act. By now, as they move into their early twenties, they’re a musical force in their own right, and their second album is a multi-faceted R&B treat, full of glistening vocal chemistry, sharp writing, and a self-determination you want to get up and cheer for.
Where their 2018 debut, The Kids Are Alright, played subtly with themes of coming-of-age discovery on tunes like “Fake,” “Baptize,” and “Grown” — the theme song of Grown-ish (on which the sisters are co-stars) — Ungodly Hour moves assuredly into decidedly adult-ish territory, often in strikingly specific terms. “I’m gonna make no apologies/If you lose a life that’s not on me,” they warn a potentially no-good man on “Tipsy,” while “Busy Boy” navigates a byzantine matrix of romantic intrigue: “It’s nine o’clock/I get a text sayin’, ‘Are you up?’/ ‘Bout 9:15/My girl said she got the same message, same thing/A few days, yeah, we’re cool/Then you disappear like I’m a fool/You told me that you with your family/My girl saw you with someone, leavin’ the party.” It’s enough to make you want to move back home with mom and dad, but they take on every weird situation with steely resolve.
Mostly, though, the signs of maturity come through in their music. Chloe x Halle get writing and production credits on almost every song. Chloe’s layered beat on “Baby Girl” is submerged but insistent, perfect for lyrics about going out into a worrying new world of adventure and independence. On “Do It,” a collaboration with Scott Storch, their voices float and weave beautifully, making one more song about going out to the club feel angelic, bristling with excitement and possibility. UK house duo Disclosure sculpt a dreamy, subtle thump for the title track, as the duo take turns on the mic like kids in the backyard playing catch, while the tough-sounding “Forgive Me” balances falsetto elegance and Bey-inscribed swagger over a coolly creeping beat.
They keep the vocal guest spots limited to an appearance from Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee, who graciously wanders by on the Mike Will Made-It-produced “Catch Up.” The album’s uncluttered feel gives them room to move and branch out on songs like the Motown-tinged “Don’t Make It Harder on Me,” or “ROYL,” on which their vocal cadences take on an anthemic imperiousness.
Chloe x Halle held the release date of Ungodly Hour back a week to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter protests, and they artfully sum up the helpless feel of of 2020 with the vulnerably unadorned interlude “Overwhelmed.” There’s a moving sense of strength through togetherness on the whole album, in the way their voices agilely glide through the songs but always end up finding each other, locking together in tough, sensitive, affirming unison a la the classic girl groups of the Sixties, turning their emerging personal growth into a shared story. “Do it for the girls,” they demand on “Baby Girl.” They did it.