A dark reworking of ‘SYRE,’ Jaden Smith’s ‘ERYS’ culminates in a sea of sound that shows another side of Jaden, one easy to become captivated by.
Released on the 5th of July and just barely curbing in the summer, ERYS is Jaden Smith’s much-awaited second studio album. Distinct and experimental, ERYS take a deep dive into a darker, more detached persona and sets up an edgier framework for all of its songs. Both drawing from and destroying the world of SYRE, the record spins out into being more than just a reversal of album title names. Why you should be listening to ERYS is not simply because of its reference-heavy SYRE mythology, or because its many stellar collaborations with big names in the hip-hop scene, or even its expansive catalogue of go-to bangers, but because here is Jaden Smith — socially conscious entrepreneur and music extraordinaire — doing what he does best; something new.
Listen: ERYS – Jaden
Sonically and lyrically, ERYS marks a slip into the dark, reworking SYRE’s Biblical mythology as the tracks sift through images of death, power, opulence, separation, and rebirth. ERYS comes through as the “other” side of Jaden Smith, setting itself up against the quieter, more “sensitive” SYRE even as the two intersect, a glimpse of one in the other.
The parallel of introductory PINK (track 1, 2, 3, 4) in ERYS with the introductory BLUE in SYRE will not be lost on dedicated fans. Steeped in sacral myth and metaphor, “P” is a musing and ethereal little piece that puts Smith’s sister at the fore. Ushered in by piano chords, WILLOW’s breathy choric vocals chime in with electric guitar and pull dramatic tension into them slowly, letting the layers meld into each other seamlessly. Sound dies just as a faultless transition hits.
Police sirens come in with a warble of sound as if snipped right out of a car chase sequence, and “I” makes a solid case for itself, drastically departing from the looping dream of otherworldly “P.” Jaden’s rapping propels the track, as catchy as it is confident. It’s impossible not to nod along.
“N” emerges amidst skittish reverb and a surging backtrack that finds definition in a beat that alternates between spaced-out and explosive. Heavy on the mythology with near-ominous callbacks to SYRE and its frameworks, it’s the instrumentation on “N” that keeps the tension taut throughout. The refrain puts Tyler Cole and Jaden Smith in charge of a poignant moment as they contemplate mortality and frailty (“Another young n*gga gone in the sunset,” / “Oh my rebel child, another died today,”) before “N” comes to a dazzling and pensive end, reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s pitch-play.
“K” rounds up the parallel preoccupation with colour, with Harry Hudson on the intro. Following the “rebel child” outro, the guitar shines through with drumming that resembles Halsey’s “New Americana.” “K” melts into a woozy ballad with WILLOW coming back from “P,” the “rebel child” refrain from “N” adding yet another layer. A pulsating interlude cleverly incorporates the looped sound of a running hair clipper before the fantastic beat switch smashes in, staggering in with all the assertion and cool of earlier tracks like “Icon” and “Watch Me.”
Slurring machine of the background invites us into ERYS’ world beyond PINK, a neat slip into “NOIZE.” Thrumming with action, emulating its very title, “NOIZE” has Jaden bandying with both aggression and ethereality, shuttling between harsh verses and musing refrains. Tyler, the Creator is the real highlight however, making a suave and smooth entry with the finesse of his verse setting up the track beautifully. From the rough timbre of Tyler’s unmistakable vocals to the bemusingly catchy emphasis he places on certain lyrics (“vegan”), “NOIZE” makes the most of its quirky feature. A striking banger that works solidly in the anarchic world of ERYS.
“i-drip-or-is” kicks off with a lovely quiet xylophone before digging deep into an incredibly smooth beat stretched over a buzzing backtrack. Ridiculously edgy and pumping with energy, “i-drip-or-is” drops power references to the Medici family and dives right into a haze of distortions, throwing up pretty images with lyrics like “I had to switch up the bars / You know I live in the stars.” The lustrous beat switch draws Jaden’s warped vocalization over to a quiet, minimal ending.
Watch: “NOIZE” – Jaden
“Again” is an enormously fun track and it’s not simply because SYRE and ERYS feature as “credited” vocals on it. Jaden raps over a pulsating beat and lets the pre-chorus dwell in a distinctive rock moment. Emphasis both on the electric guitar-infused rock-drumming and the thudding hip-hop beat not only highlights the dual genre-formulation of “Again” but enables a flush switch between the two, which is beautiful. 2:28 cuts to a quiet, balladic interlude which is where SYRE features, making for a moment that is dreamy and full of wonder. Vulnerability is raw in lyrics like and “See my heart when it breaks/tends to always wanna say ‘Baby, I love ya’.” In a fantastically meta moment, ERYS cuts SYRE off with a “Who the fuck turned this shit on-,” bringing Smith’s two personas into brief but direct contact.
“Got It” comes in with tension but expands expertly to accommodate lyrical images of opulence and luxury. A swaggery bop full of itself that’ll have its listeners nodding along, wishing it were just a little bit longer. “Fire Dept” is an exciting curveball that might initially have listeners checking to see if it’s still ERYS, if it’s still Jaden Smith. Sinking its teeth right into a punk-rock pulse, “Fire Dept” helps Jaden thrive in the novel, inventive landscape of ERYS. Having credited Fall Out Boy as a major influence in an interview with Rolling Stone, it’s easy to see where “Fire Dept” get its head-banger energy from. Raucous sounds switch to a pensive, bared down outro and “Fire Dept” revels in its own chaos, vacillating from discordant to contemplative; as much rap as punk.
The Trinidad James feature swims in on “Mission,” a moody and moony track carving the halfway mark for ERYS. Smith switches expertly between woozy indifference and more pointed disdain, trading pitch after pitch as he spits out quirky lyrics like “I just woke up with a wave / I’m Marie Antoinette with the cake, my love.” James arrives in the third verse, a segment that carries harsh, thumping energy similar to Brockhampton’s “New Orleans.”
Watch: “Fire Dept” – Jaden
“Summertime in Paris” brings the Smith siblings together again and their duet does not disappoint. Marking the mellow and tender in ERYS, the eleventh track evokes both the dreaminess of Paris and of being in love. “Summertime is meant to fall in love / I wrote you a poem for your surprise” is a curiously resonant refrain, echoing a very pure sentiment. The sincerity is painfully simple, articulated in fuzzy repetition and soft chord work. WILLOW croons and dips over her verse beautifully, alternating between high and low, deep and compact, lending “Summertime in Paris” a multifarious sort of depth.
“Blackout” continues this strain of emotive story-telling, even as punk-rock returns in new shape on the chorus. Verses are stripped of interference so only Jaden sings over the thrumming beat that takes us on. 3:15 sweeps away the background to mark mood shift, Jaden’s voice clearer now, unhesitant, combining terrifically with the drums. 5:05 witnesses more change, giving way to acoustic strumming that turns “Blackout’s” harsher, punk impulses soft again.
“Pain” brings back the badassery rolling over a droning backtrack, with lyrics like “Crying in the sunset, that’s a different guy,” directly referencing the end of SYRE. There’s a lovely shift in Part II where some French is peppered in, as the track morphs into a late-night jazzy ballad that mulls over separation and memory (“You make me think of you,” and “I wanna take you to the beach, babe / I will tie us to the seas,”).
“Chateau,” which features A$AP Rocky, keeps things edgy and clipped. Rocky’s verse dances over a snappy beat and paced-out chord work. Jaden brings on characteristically distorted vocals in teasing little pockets. A short bop that doesn’t make as much as an impression as it probably should.
“On My Own” is a standout track, making a solid case for well-executed rap collaborations that tap into the dynamic power/talent of the musicians in question. Not only does it play to the strengths of both its rappers but “On My Own” fits the seductive, skittish energy of ERYS almost perfectly. Kid Cudi and Smith are polished, moody and downright impossible to resist. Pulsing with an intoxicating dark energy, “On My Own” layers vocal over heady vocal and lets its instrumentation weave a dangerous, freeing kind of atmosphere. The bridge is fantastic, marking pace change just as it embodies the swaggering quality of Jaden’s lyricism. Stellar from start to finish, “On My Own” is as compelling as it is creative.
Plucking guitar cues “Riot” in and drums crash in full force, adding this track to the punk-experimental undercurrent of ERYS. Dramatically delivered in duality once more, Jaden vocalises crisply over the edgy rock-rap backtrack. “Riot” takes a sleeker turn into emphasized punk instrumentation with some excellent drumming, leading into a harsh, grating rendition of the chorus and the following verse. A warped outro brings “Riot” to a close.
“ERYS,” the titular and last track of the album, is also the record’s longest. The fragmented, mood-shifting prologue brings Smith’s project full circle, as he raps that “ERYS died last night” before making direct references to SYRE’s (re-)emergence, indicating perhaps that ERYS and SYRE co-exist, in phases, in parts. From the initial raspy instincts of punk-rock splayed out over discordant drums and electric guitar, “ERYS” moves into distorted landscapes where minimal instrumentation lets Jaden mull over lost love and longing. This clarity is displaced as “ERYS’” dreamy, reverb-laden outro takes over in a rush of whispers, with the self-referential lyrics bringing ERYS into dream-pop focus.
Watch: “ERYS” – Jaden
ERYS culminates in a sea of sound, as much a question as an answer, the mirroring having stopped, the mystery seemingly over as Jaden finishes: “And the sun sets in the distance / There I’ll be / SYRE / A beautiful confusion.”
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