Niecy Blues’ debut full-length, Exit Simulation, is a transcendent wade through a smoky expanse that is carefully crafted by the South Carolina-based singer and producer. An exploration of the ghosts of sacred places, Exit Simulation transports you to an incorporeal plain in which bodiless voices call out from beyond the audial fog.

The album’s title, taken from a sci-fi book read during the pandemic, evokes the concept of an existential departure – a concept which the music contained within thoroughly embodies, creating a purgatory in which to explore spiritual concepts. The gospel undercurrents, ethereal lead vocals and weighty rhythm section that tug on the threads that hold it all together combine to create a unique soundscape. Blues’ production can lull and haunt in equal measure. The misty lead vocals are comparable to the likes of Portishead’s Beth Gibbons and, when floating into a higher register, feel as though they are feeling for the frequency at which soul will separate from body.

‘U Care’ is an example of this. Niecy Blues’ vocals go from having bodily weight to taking on a translucent airiness. The bass seems to tether the piece down, yanking down any escaping spirit. In its final few minutes, the track stumbles upon memories held within holy ruins. In many ways, ‘U Care’ is an encapsulation of the album’s feel; however, it is when the sonic palette is expanded beyond the foundation of otherworldly R&B and sublime vocal loops that the record is most interesting to me. Opener ‘1111’ with its heavenly synth melody sets the mood immediately. The keys that pepper the track list are always welcome, but especially when they combine with erratic horns and distant percussion on ‘Soma’ and become slightly panicked. With this anxious instrumental flurry juxtaposing blissful woodwind, ‘Soma’ is, in my view, the album’s most texturally rich offering.

By the album’s nature, every track washes over you. Exit Simulation is an enveloping tide, but in that there aren’t any strong hooks. It is much more anchored in ambient music – an active ambience with a distinct vocal presence, absolutely, but ambience nonetheless. What Niecy Blues does have on their debut is a signature; Exit Simulation cocoons you in a thick shroud and establishes a singular voice amongst their contemporaries.

Niecy Blues: Exit Simulation – Out 10th November 2023 (Kranky)

Blues – U Care (Visualizer) – YouTube