On Free, British neo-soul singer Natalie Duncan explores doubt, freedom, and love atop a heady mix of soul, R&B, and jazz, weaving together tales of the heart with grace and beauty—showing emotional restraint one moment, and yearning the next. On the sticky single “Pools,” Duncan rides a wave of devotion, crooning, “I just sit inside of your energy/ You really fascinate me/ How come you chose me/ I feel luminous when you’re close to me.” On the bleary ballad “Autumn,” she mourns a lost love: “You can feel the presence of your ghost,” she sings. “He never looked as good as when you left him alone/ Just as the summer fades to autumn, he’ll be gone.”
The tone shifts after the interlude “Glass,” on which Duncan samples Nina Simone. On “Karma,” Duncan’s voice radiates warmth, offering a dispatch from the other side of love. Free ebbs and flows the same way love does; in the beginning, the tide feels like it will swallow Duncan whole. By the end, she comes up for air, reentering the world shaky and raw, but trembling with potential.