Zsela: Big for You review – modern R&B with a leisurely, old-school charm

<span>Zsela: ‘husky lower register’.</span><span>Photograph: Rob Kulisek</span>
Zsela: ‘husky lower register’.Photograph: Rob Kulisek

Singer-songwriter Zsela (“zhay-la”) Thompson has a husky lower register like a ripe fruit, one with few ready equivalents in 2024. Her approach on this debut album is both arrestingly old school and totally up to date, given the shake-up artists such as Beyoncé or Willow are giving to already creaking notions of genre participation.

On Big for You, the sequel to a well-received 2020 EP, the LA-based Thompson smears that rich voice across a range of styles, maintaining a leisurely pace and continuity of mood even as the approaches evolve. You can hear Thompson’s Brooklyn childhood, spent listening to her mother’s Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush records, run through a more modern R&B production filter on tracks such as Fire Excape [sic] or Brand New (her co-producers have Frank Ocean, FKA twigs and War on Drugs credits; her father, meanwhile, records as Chocolate Genius).

The standout track Lily of the Nile, meanwhile, sounds like Bruce Springsteen, while Not Your Angel is leftfield pop. Low-key guests on this intriguing record range from veteran guitarist Marc Ribot (Tom Waits) to the post-genre Nick Hakim. The star, though, remains Zsela’s buttery voice, perhaps most effective accompanied by unadorned guitar and swelling atmospherics on Watersprite, or piano and percussion on Moth Dance.