On the slinky follow-up to their carefree debut, the R&B sisters take greater risks with their production and their writing.
In the two years since Chloe x Halle released their lighthearted coming-of-age debut The Kids Are Alright, the Bailey sisters have kept busy. They starred in three seasons of the sitcom Grown-ish, snagged two Grammy nominations, opened for JAY-Z and Beyoncé’s joint tour, sang at the Super Bowl—oh, and Halle was cast as Princess Ariel in Disney’s upcoming live-action The Little Mermaid. In whatever free time they had, the Atlanta duo also managed to write, perform, and contribute production for their second album, Ungodly Hour. Just the normal course of life for a 22- and 20-year-old, right?
But Chloe x Halle also want to curse and talk about sex and make drunk mistakes and deal with the aftermath of unsolicited dick pics. They want to be somewhat normal twenty-somethings, in other words, a feat that seemed impossible on their debut album, where they were protecting their squeaky-clean images. But now they’re over that: “It’s four o’clock/You sendin’ me too many pictures of your…(oh),” the duo sing with a Destiny’s Child-invoking rhythm on “Busy Boy,” every line delivered with an audible smirk. But this isn’t the album equivalent of former teen stars making scandalous headlines; Chloe x Halle shed their innocence with grace, as they do with everything else.
Frequently the sharpest Chloe x Halle songs are the ones where the sisters are the most hands-on. “Baby Girl” immediately jumps out, with danceable and warm Chloe production reminiscent of a Kelela album. On “Tipsy,” Chloe’s pulsing instrumental elevates the duo seamlessly weaving between rapping and singing, a moment that should make their mentor, Beyoncé, proud.
Even when everything isn’t clicking, Chloe x Halle’s presence is enough to bring a track to life. The Mike WiLL Made-It-produced and Swae Lee-assisted “Catch Up” sounds like a pop song produced via algorithm, redeemed only by their sweet harmonizing. “Wonder What She Thinks of Me” is nearly brought down by Disney-musical-soundtrack vocals, but the the production (provided by both sisters) and colorful songwriting saves it—the lyrics sound like a dramatized version of conversations had in a stressful relationship: “I wonder what she thinks of me/When you’re coming home/I know that she smells my perfume under your cologne.”
But if “Wonder What She Thinks of Me” is a rare moment where Chloe x Halle could’ve used more direction, typically their decisions go well: They flip a sleek and sexy Scott Storch rhythm into a night-out anthem on “Do It” and deliver sugar-coated melodies over a blissful Disclosure groove on “Ungodly Hour.” Their riskiest songwriting pans out, too: “You must got me fucked up/You must got me fucked up/I think I had enough,” they wail on “Forgive Me,” potentially alienating some of their fanbase. Though most should understand that Chloe x Halle aren’t just television characters or former YouTube stars or proteges of the world’s biggest pop icon, but real grown women with layers, flaws, and emotions. With Ungodly Hour, Chloe x Halle take a quick moment to reflect on that growth, before they ultimately return to their grind.