Critic’s Corner: Calista Wu – The Prologue

I’ve only heard of Calista Wu recently and as a result I’m not too familiar with her story or any past material. The Prologue marks Calista’s first CD release and upon hearing some samples I was intrigued to listen more. Her website has described her style as “a unique urban blend of soul and spirit, and her songs capture the conflicting realities of the internal and external”. Categorically, Calista strays from the typical contemporary R&B sound instead toning it back and relying on a more classic approach. Hailing from the LA area, she has the support of other talented Asian American artists such as Tatum Jones & the Far East Movement but is it well deserved? Let’s find out after the jump!

Black Coffee – This song has a beautiful structure, arrangement, and instrumental tracking. That being said, it has a slight throwback feel. It straddles the line between sounding a bit dated and sounding like a timeless classic, though I tend to feel the latter. Calista sings this song effortlessly and presents the story of a girl finding herself with great emotion and evokes a hopeful tone. The writing definitely has some cheesy lines, particularly in the bridge, but it doesn’t detract from the song too much.

Can You – Calista makes use of an old-school style of r&b to create a mildly catchy song. I wasn’t as a big a fan of the arrangement here and thought the verses were a bit on the dry side. The chorus is a tad repetitive but I like the subtly dark tone to it, both in voice and subject. The bridge really brings out some great colors to Calista’s voice as she’s given the opportunity to exhibit some rawness. The track is more memorable for allowing us to hear the various textures of her voice than it is as a complete song.

Tell Me Your Story – I really enjoyed the breezy, laid back swing of this song. It has a sweet narrative and catchy chorus that is akin to what I imagine Colbie Caillat would sound like if she sang more soulful r&b. Or conversely, what Erykah Badu would sound like if she went more acoustic pop. The song presents a sense of sentimentality and nostalgia that outlines a good record overall. The bridge switches up the sound by intensifying for a few moments before calming back down. The sweeping nature of the arrangement fits the song well but the crescendo felt a tad short.

Belong to You – This song has a great bounce to it that reminds me of some old TLC material. I appreciated the older sound but I wonder if a younger audience would. I think its probably the catchiest record on the EP and coincidentally is my favorite. The lyrics are light and sweet but still heartfelt, a tone that I think is lost in most current songs. I really have very few, if any complaints on this track.

Dignity – I’m going to admit I like this song though I know it has an overly optimistic 90’s kumbaya type of sound. This track is also very catchy and has a great beat with fitting instrumentation. The lyrics are definitely syrupy though they do have uplifting qualities. As always Calista sounds fantastic and presents the material very well, corniness notwithstanding.

I imagine this EP would stir mildly polar reactions from various listeners. On one hand the EP definitely has an old-school r&b vibe to it that often demonstrates an arguably classic sound. However, there are others who I’m sure will find the sound too old fashioned and dated. Regardless of where any of you would fall in the spectrum, I think it’s safe to collectively say that Calista Wu is a very talented newcomer that deserves a closer listen. Her voice has a fantastic faintly smoky/jazzy quality that lends itself well to the all acoustic sound. I enjoyed the fact that the ‘The Prologue’ was not over produced because it allowed me to really appreciate the subtleties to Calista’s voice. However I will admit that there are times where I thought the songs did sound a bit thin, as if it were missing an element, layer, or instrument here and there. But these situations were definitely not common. As someone who grew up with r&b before it was enveloped by Hip-Hop, I can fully appreciate what Calista has brought to table here. The only reoccurring complaint I can pinpoint is the vague syrupy nature of the lyrics. The writing, while not poor by any means, definitely present a growth area where hopefully they will eventually be as transparently emotional as her voice without having to rely on cliche’s and hackneyed phrasing. It’s a bit harder to judge EPs as they are such short representations of an artist but I have to say I very much enjoyed this release and look forward to more material from this artist. With the recent success of Maxwell’s return I can only hope that classic r&b is making a comeback and that Calista will be a part of the wave.

Must Listen: Black Coffee, Tell Me Your Story, Dignity

a-Tunes Score: 8.5/10

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