Even as an electrical engineering student at the University of Illinois, Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist NNAMDÏ (Nnamdi Ogbonnaya) possessed the ability to juggle myriad projects. A profile from 2017 around the time of his third album, Drool, noted this, calling to mind NNAMDÏ’s constantly moving brain and how he recorded his dad, Adonijah, as he was getting pulled over for speeding. NNAMDÏ simply thought the sample would be great for his new album.
On Please Have a Seat, his sixth album and his first with Secretly Canadian, the Sooper Records founder brings that same dedication to intoxicating effect, continuing his ambitious and exploratory genre-bouncing sound. His always-biting commentary underscores his need to common threads in others as a way to cope with society’s chaos. As with previous albums, NNAMDÏ throws multiple influences into every piece of digital space on Please Have a Seat, yet somehow the album remains a pleasing listen. Nnamdi’s so consistent with switching up his musical styles that each project seems built upon its predecessor. That doesn’t mean his work isn’t inventive; to the contrary, his off-the-cuff experimenting is likely carefully calibrated.
Please Have a Seat switches genres effortlessly, from prog rock to avant pop to hip-hop. Quiet notes collide with wild drum solos. His circus-like vocals, mashed up and sanitized via synthesizer, clash with feedback and screeching arena-sized guitar riffs and solos. At the top, “Ready To Run” introduces one of his common themes: Surrounded by a toxic environment, he finds himself ready to leave it all under his own power. The theme returns at the album’s close, a reminder that problems don’t go away after a few songs. And early on, his voice sounds tired and broken.
But that’s how great he is at vocalizing. Soothing tones run alongside stream-of-consciousness raps that gain intensity and complexity. His vocal acrobatics are backed by overloaded instrumental changes like massive guitar riffs or rapid percussion. This overprocessed style represent his chameleonic style of art––robotic, wavering, whispered words become high-pitched squeals or electronic hums. But you never lose sense of Nnamdi’s deep, even-toned voice.
He brings up the thorny topic of fame several times on Please Have a Seat—on one hand it pays the bills; on the other, it’s a gift you can’t return. “I Don’t Wanna Be Famous,” about its perils and what happens on the way up, includes his need to “ride that massive wave.” The single follows the narrative of BRAT’s “Gimme Gimme,” where he rakes in the cash (“let ‘em stack let ‘em stack”). “Armoire” delivers rapid-fire verses over electro synths, sound bites and angelic notes. Again he sings of fame: “Made a decision to tunnel my vision / There’s no competition, I’m riding alone.” Clever wordplay abounds, with phrases like “wiped the sweat and sawed off the dust” never out of place even in their surrealist imagery.
He’s at his most ambitious and impactful on “Anxious Eater,” a swirling mix of drum solos and robotic words that meet triumphant, screaming prog-rock guitar notes and off-kilter beeps. A manic brew of sounds segues into a moody, instrumental passage that breaks down, only to race again. The focused, dark synth ballad “Anti” represents someone at his breaking point who is forced to address a chronic issue. “I wanna forgive you – it’s too hard to forget,” he explains. Still hurting, he boasts that he can handle the stress on his own. “I commit myself before I call for help. Never trust a soul, I know it’s gotta hurt.”
The album balances light moods with sad passages. Gorgeous acoustic melodies are embedded among towers of digital noise, blips and synths; a violin passage on “Anxious Eater” reveals dark feelings just underneath. All these compatible, multi-textual elements sometimes act as a transition between sections of a song. Dusty strings, fuzzy guitar and robotic, wandering singsong pattern of “Grounded” becomes a hollow furniture ad where he has “a place to stop and rest.” Regaining his strength, the next song, “I Don’t Wanna Be Famous” details the tangible and intangible factors of fame—the lure of social media and the need to “hang with models, stat.” His sardonic viewpoint captures a superficiality, but there’s an undercut: The money’s adding up, but somehow it’s still not enough.
NNAMDÏ’s steadily rising profile seems to only have strengthened his resolve to remain as distinctive as possible. In a warbly message on “I Don’t Wanna Be Famous,” he claims people “used to say that I was too weird and shit / now they wanna take me serious.” You get the sense he’s laughing at the irony. As an avant pop / hip hop / experimental artist, his way of cherry-picking every piece of digital noise usually works to his advantage. If a section ever fails to hit its mark, he still gets respect for taking unique risks. As the energy fades in and out over its 14 tracks, it can be hard to know what to make of the album sometimes. On the increasingly chaotic “Careful,” he admits: “I care too much …. not enough sometimes.”
One consistent thread in NNAMDÏ’s music is his knack, or maybe it’s just an eagerness, to find the good in others and shout it from the rooftops. He recently wrote on social media: “I will continue to scream into the void until it grows arms and hugs me back.” In releasing his own insecurities into the world, he’s signaling his own ability to empathize with others’ pain.
Label: Sooper/Secretly Canadian