Kyla Charter, ‘Edible Flowers’ — 3.5/5 stars

’Toban turntable

Toronto-based singer Kyla Charter has had an illustrious career as a background singer in the CanCon music machine. Her CV reads like a CBC Radio One playlist, performing with artists like July Talk, Patrick Watson, Rich Aucoin and Alessia Cara. Now Charter is stepping out on her own with her debut album Edible Flowers.

Working with production team Safe Spaceship, Charter has built a short but sweet album of woozy, dark tracks, with a heavy dose of neo-soul and J Dilla influence. The eerie, Midsommar-esque painting on the cover hints toward the heavy mood of the album — the tempi sag with dread, the drums stutter and drawl with an uncomfortable unsteadiness and swirls of synths and layered vocals clutter an oppressive mix.

The opener “Doubts” begins a capella with choral-like harmonies, while Charter’s refrain of “I’ve got my doubts” rings out over top, sung soft and meek at first, as if she were whispering in confession. The song progresses sort of aimlessly, but with some interesting twists and turns and fluctuations in intensity as they repeat the refrain over and over.

For such a vocal-focused album, though, Charter doesn’t seem interested in saying a lot, opting instead for vibe music built around simple, repeating phrases or wordless melodies. Charter says this sprouted from a feeling during the tumultuous summer of 2020 of being unable to focus on much more than a single thought at a time.

“Bach To The Future” plays with the titular composer’s counterpoint, intertwining melodies as a long bassline is complicated by layered “ooo” and “aah” vocal lines while another Dilla-esque loose hip-hop groove pounds underneath. “After Party” is a refreshingly bubbly track, with a lively, wordless vocal performance with some charming laughs and impressive runs thrown in.

“Breaking Dishes” is built around a gnarly distorted bass track and some slightly more aggressive vocals — filtered as if Charter were singing over the phone — but the track doesn’t really do anything with that initial energy, letting things slowly peter out in a brief two minutes. This lack of follow-through is an issue with the whole record, really — many of the songs don’t quite feel finished. The album points this out about itself weirdly enough, with a little snatch of dialogue on “Qwyn” saying the song “sounds a little like a vignette.”

The closer “Another Name” is the one track that that criticism cannot be leveled at. At over seven minutes, the song takes its time, with Charter singing a loose, freestyle-like diatribe over a looped phrase of group humming and clapping, finishing the album on a sombre note.

Edible Flowers is an interesting — if not completely coherent — record of murky, dank neo-soul from a pretty remarkable vocalist, working quite well as gloomy vibe-music.

Kyla Charter’s debut album Edible Flowers will be available April 8.