Album of the Week

For this week let’s get to know SZA’s album SOS


Sarah Seader

CalTimes Album of the Week

Andrew Havens, Staff Writer

Welcome to the return of the CalTimes’s Album of the Week series! We’ll be reviewing our favorite albums and artists old and new, across all genres. If you have any suggestions, please email us!


Today’s album- A long-awaited smash hit from a modern R&B mainstay: SOS by SZA.


Solana Imani Rowe, known worldwide by her stage name SZA, has been a cultural touchstone since her arrival to superstardom in 2017 with the release of her album Ctrl. Infamously stingy with her drops, fans have been eager to say the least for the release of her new standalone album, through Top Dawg Entertainment and RCA Records. She certainly did not disappoint with SOS, entrenching herself into her swaying, long-winded, patient, and emotional style. Her trademark R&B with a touch of hip-hop where it’s needed the most has been received incredibly well by her manic and devoted fans.


Though the album does delve into some more hip-hop themed tracks than Ctrl, with features from noted rappers Don Toliver and Travis Scott, SZA rights the ship and commands the wavelengths with her ethereal and soulful voice. Turn the lights down and listen with headphones, as SZA tells her stories of love and youthful experience.


The 23-song tracklist spans just over an hour and takes the listener on a funky and heavy journey through her innermost thoughts on relationships, beauty, morality, labels, rejection, and loneliness. SZA bears it all throughout the entire album, but it shows especially on songs like “Gone Girl” and “Far,” where a certain motivation of SZA comes through loud and clear: a desire to escape oneself and be truly free from all emotion. The songs give waves of soulful emotion, of being used and neglected, and wishing to escape. SZA’s softer underbelly is exposed for the world to comfort, but she makes it very well known in other tracks like “Smokin on my Ex Pack” and “Forgiveness” that she doesn’t need the world’s pity. Two reckless songs with immense, high punching detail and sampling, those two tracks give SZA fans the empowered voice that she is famous for.


SOS even jumps genres for a bit right in the middle of the album, moving into pop rock with the raunchy and exciting track “F2F.” I saw this as a refreshing break between the occasionally monotonous feel of some songs. It’s safe to assume that most fans enjoyed this surprise, as the song itself sounds radio-friendly (minus the lyrics) and somewhat formulaic, but still enjoyable and worth a volume bump while jamming out in the car.


Two of the next three tracks after “F2F” give way to slow paced, acoustic melodies in “Conceited” and “Special,” which serve as an introspective pause in the middle of a sonically complicated album. Conceptually, this long break makes no sense in the larger scheme of things, but I actually found it to be a creative exploration of what SZA’s future music could sound like. It’s not often that specific songs actually tease future songs, but SZA managed to accomplish just that.


As we near the end of the album, three of the final seven songs were previously released singles. Tying individually dropped songs into a comprehensive album is never an easy thing to pull off, and SZA (namely SZA’s producers) did an entirely average job at it. The songs, “Shirt,” “I Hate U,” and “Good Days,” still felt distinct and separated from the rest of the album. Shirt has the best case for a seamless transition, but “I Hate U” and “Good Days” seem tacked onto the end to bring on previously integrated fans, a common practice in the modern music industry. The songs themselves all have different strengths, but none really stick onto this album as tightly as they would have hoped.


SZA delivers exactly what her fans wanted: a soulful, deep, powerful record filled with detail, vulnerability, relatability, and insecurity. The soundtracks and melodies to each song truly feel like a backdrop to SZA’s rich vocals, not the primary appeal seen on other modern mainstream albums. Instead, the backtracks and vocals are interlocked in a loose-fitting dance, as they spin stories of love and heartbreak. SZA masterfully floats across each track, adding force in what seems like the perfect moments and drawing back just as the listener fully tunes in.


Much like with Ctrl, SZA manages to hide two different dichotomous themes into the album. The one is fun and light, filled with empowering lyrics about letting go and living your life according to your own rules. The other is serious, vulnerable, and serves as a warning to the listener that if you do decide to live independently, the only person you’ll be able to confront is yourself.


This album seems, to me, as a spiritual successor to Ctrl, picking up where it left off and refining it, giving it more of a message, and shipping it out to the world. SZA showed real bravery in this album, and any listener could appreciate that. Sonically, the music is pleasing but raw, smooth but heavy, playful but painful. SZA continues to show the world why R&B is a timeless genre of music.


Rating: 8.5/10


Main Attractors: Music is flowy and powerful with punching bass and wide-traveling vocals. The subject matter is authentic and unfiltered. Various songs on the album are easy hits, but the entire album cleans itself up and presents itself as a whole. Fans of R&B will find a familiar feeling throughout the entire record.


Main Detractors: Besides one major break, songs can feel monotonous and could lead to burnout over time. Multiple songs feel tacked on and not fully integrated with bare-boned features, though that could be seen as a positive. The Travis Scott feature on Open Arms felt clunky, like it was never supposed to be there.