Alt-R&B's RICEWINE Nails the Vibe on 'Lovesick'
RICEWINE's uneven yet generous third LP, Lovesick, perfects an infectious and consistent sound, allowing the groove to propel the album forward.
Z Tapes Records
24 April 2020
It's fitting that Lovesick opens on the vibe of "2/6 Woonsocket Court", a jumbled overture of light percussion and voices flowing into playful tones and contemplative keys. Talae Rodden, the Australian talent behind RICEWINE, already has two albums and a handful of singles to his name that explore and tinker with his warmly lo-fi R&B/hip-hop sound. The fact that he's 20 years old makes a glance at his Spotify page a brief brush with temporal vertigo. But Lovesick, RICEWINE's third LP, isn't rushing to prove itself of compulsively experimenting. It's more interested in the elaboration of a mood, as RICEWINE ponders love and longing in all their shades against a warm sonic backdrop.
In RICEWINE's confident hand, the album slips from one track into another with the easy precision of puzzle pieces. The sunny ease of "2/6 Woonsocket Court" flows into the smooth horn-and-piano charm of "Ways", which in turn clicks perfectly into "Ocean", an effortless crooner with infectious hand-clap percussion. That one-after-the-other step never lets up, for all the album's runtime, but it's RICEWINE's credit that the pace never feels breathless. Despite its shrugging cool, "Ways" is a somber meditation on addiction, while the candid romance of "Ocean" might be yearning for someone particularly distant.
RICEWINE's lyrics work hard to break up the album's groove, cutting from the neurotic relationship strife of "Control" and "Allure" to the more contemplative offerings "Growing" and "Months". The songwriting on Lovesick works hard to ask something new of his genre-mash sound from song to song, a sound he already knows he can nail. It's a worthwhile experiment for a young artist, one who shows an impressive level of self-awareness present in his craft. But it's here that Lovesick gets a little lost in its own conceit, bogging the album's personality down in the insistence on a constant tone.
The instrumentation and production here are nearly flawless from end to end, conjuring images of a woozy, neverending summer romance. But RICEWINE's confidence in his considerable abilities seems to outstrip his faith that the listener's still interested in what the next song has to say. Too many half-skits and interludes choke the first half of Lovesick, ranging from the gorgeous ("Interlude (Dee Ehreeyuh)") to the miss-the-mark cringe ("Spicetube"). The overload of these intervals doesn't add anything to the character of the album, or to RICEWINE himself, and only trips up the momentum that songs themselves sustain. Similarly, it's a little jarring when and how RICEWINE chooses to distort his voice. His soft lilt and cadence are essential elements of some of the best tracks on the album. But it's moments like the otherwise-catchy "Outside" that risk losing those vocals in the pleasant textures, adding grainy and robotic masks to his voice that distract more than enliven.
Lovesick's at its best when it leans into its conceit, fashioning the lyrics and vocals to fit the liquid alt-R&B sound. The more radio-pop-leaning "Falling" and "Toothache" are unexpected album highlights, giving RICEWINE a chance to experiment with some truly genuine emotion, and the worn-out heartache of "Taken" could pass for a Brockhampton closer. The collaborations see RICEWINE rise nimbly to the challenge of fitting a new voice into his style, resulting in breathtaking moments like the still-dreamy single "Selfluv" and penultimate track "Summer", both featuring fellow Aussie GUS.
Lovesick is an ambitious project, and its 18 tracks reach a bit farther, and more abstractly, than the album's content can account for. But Lovesick's also full of moments to be thankful for, when all of RICEWINE's strands—the earnest pop, slick R&B, and buoyant electronica—come together, settling into one undeniable groove.