It’s not every day you find a Japanese singer getting traction on what’s known as “Adult R&B” radio — a catch-all format where artists with interest in pre-Drake R&B can still find a commercial audience. But here comes Nao Yoshioka, who was born in Osaka, climbing the chart with “I Love When,” a finely buffed neo-soul ballad.
There’s a heap of similar songs on The Truth, Yoshioka’s third album. The grooves are viscous, with bass notes like falling boulders and curt drumming — lackadaisical rim-shots and staggered handclaps welcome, no fills allowed. Yoshioka is not an overpowering singer, but neo-soul was never about power as much as aura. Her tone is calming; she multi-tracks herself at all the right moments.
Some of these lyrics may be too sincere for young listeners: “Don’t you dare stare in my eyes if you can love all of me;” “Beauty is skin deep, don’t let nobody tell you nothing but the truth.” Creamy sentiments like these, which might also appear on gift cards, are still prized in Adult R&B. If it bothers you, turn your focus back to the rhythm section.
The Truth is shamelessly nostalgic for the year 2000, around the time when Jill Scott released her debut album. But it’s also exactly up-to-date, because a generation of young singers, raised on Scott and the other neo-soul singers of that era, are now every bit as nostalgic as Yoshioka: The Internet, Kali Uchis, Ari Lennox, BJ the Chicago Kid, JMSN.
The difference between Yoshioka and her neo-neo-soul comrades is that they all benefit from placement on prominent streaming service playlists, which create the lion’s share of today’s hits. In a streaming world, pleasant surprises can be harder to find. Here’s one.