As smooth as it is deeply intoxicating, it’s easy to mistake the vocal harmony Denzell Terrell sets up as the centerpiece of his new single and music video “Keys to ya Heart” for a stiff cocktail you’d pick up in a crowded club full of hopeful lovers on the prowl. There’s a romanticism to every move he’s making in this track, and even without watching the immersive music video for the song, it was obvious to me that this passionate singer and performer was intending to drop an old-school slow jam here. He’s got the right concept at hand, and his execution makes this a fascinatingly provocative listen from top to bottom.
First off, there’s just no getting around it – the ‘90s influence in this performance is impossible to escape, but I don’t think I would call “Keys to ya Heart” an outright homage. There’s definitely a throwback feel to the hook, but it’s cut with such an efficient ear for detail that it feels more modern than it does traditional from a listener’s perspective. I definitely can tell that Terrell has been singing most of his life here, as he not only sounds really confident in what he’s saying but how he’s stating it to us in this melodic setting.
The beat is pretty relaxed in comparison to the bassline, and I think that Terrell was smart to go with a conservative percussive presence in the background over something a bit more imposing on his lead vocal. He’s really playing up the eroticized tension in this track, but not to release it in some cheesy chorus. This is a player who actually has something he wants to get off of his chest here, and he’s using not only his voice but the surrounding componentry to make his story known to anyone listening.
Terrell’s use of auto-tune is tasteful and streamlined, which is the only way to employ such an attribute in 2021 as I see it. When the groove verges on meandering in the latter half of the song, this boisterous accent fills the speakers with bright, opulent melodicism that, while synthetic in nature, is really rich and beneficial to the song as a whole. We end up with a more complete and full-bodied piece than we would have, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him implement it in live performances as well.
Anyone who tells you that the Cali scene is falling apart in comparison to where it was just five years ago really doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and indie artists like Denzell Terrell are proving that right now. “Keys to ya Heart” is an ambassadorial offering almost guaranteed to get people turned on about Terrell’s skillset, and though it’s too simple to be a proper identity track, it’s definitely a song that was designed to inform us of who this player is becoming before our very ears. This is quality R&B, and exactly the shot of life the pop scene needed at the moment.
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