Maria Isabel Is Smooth, but Safe on i hope you’re very unhappy without me EP
The singer/songwriter sounds pleasant on her newest project, but would benefit from more experimentation and risk-takingMusic Reviews Maria Isabel
As soon as i hope you’re very unhappy without me’s opening track “Left Alone” starts, it’s obvious that Maria Isabel’s voice is pretty. It’s soothing but unexciting, calming but nondescript. However, she shows she knows how to nail formidable one-liners on the song, like “Drowning is a quiet thing” and “I can’t love the both of us.” Those lyrics hit harder than Isabel may have intended—especially when paired with lulling acoustics. Their potency is the best part of “Left Alone,” and Isabel’s new project as a whole.
The Dominican-American artist, who hails from New York, prides herself on being a poet, and her discography does go beyond the predictable scope of romance and heartache. Isabel has bravely explored the topic of mental health and celebrated the magnificence of her heritage. This is why the previously released “No Soy Para Ti,” which is also featured on this project, remains a gem. Even though the relationship she is waxing poetic about inevitably falls apart, the sonic richness of the dembow and reggaeton make it a rousing listen.
“Baby … ” masterfully builds suspense with evocative atmospherics, and Isabel’s slippery and hypnotic vocals effortlessly float over them. Simply put, this is when she is at her best. The formula continues with “Back of My Mind”—tempered rhythms keep the pace of seductive reminiscence that she clearly revels in. The stripped-down guitars on “Solitude,” in conjunction with soft coos, drive home the desolation she is desperately trying to make sense out of. Isabel ultimately realizes that, after a painful breakup, “nothing is sweeter than [her] solitude.”
She continues this streak of vulnerability on “I Loved You,” which is airy and light, yet somehow manages to knock the breath out of the listener with its stark honesty: “We ruin everything we touch / Please stop calling me.” The repetitive chorus is endearing as opposed to tiresome and its angelic execution makes it one of the best moments on i hope you’re very unhappy without me. At eight songs long, the EP is the right length to get a taste of her artistry. Isabel knows how to write the hell out of a song and her lyricism will only expand as she continues to grow even more comfortable in her skin.
Overall, thoughy, this EP plays it too safe to be definitive. This generation of R&B, which includes artists like SZA, Snoh Aalegra, Jorja Smith, Summer Walker and Baby Rose, challenges the notion of what it means to be a contemporary female singer. Isabel needs to roam more freely for her catalogue to have an impact. Her voice is gorgeous, and the instrumentation employed on i hope you’re very unhappy without me is reliable enough. But in order to stand out from the rest, Maria Isabel needs to be bolder in her approach. Once she truly realizes the power of her creativity, she can make a lasting mark.
Candace McDuffie is a culture writer whose work has appeared in outlets like Rolling Stone, MTV, NBC News, and Entertainment Weekly. You can follow her on Instagram @candace.mcduffie.