Ungodly Hour: a review and analysis of Chloe x Halle’s second studio album
If there ever was a time for people to get onboard the Chloe x Halle train before it departs, it would be now. The sister duo had some credits as child actresses under their belt when they went viral on Youtube, posting their covers of Beyoncé songs and attracting the attention of the legend herself who signed them to her label Parkwood Entertainment back in 2015. Since then, Chloe x Halle has dropped a mixtape and their debut album The Kids Are Alright, which garnered enough praise and attention to earn them 2 Grammy nominations. They’ve been featured as part of their mentor’s visual album Lemonade and have gone on to grace televisions nationwide on the Black-ish spinoff, Grown-ish where they both feature in main roles — and all eyes have turned on Halle Bailey, as the younger sister of the duo was recently cast as Ariel in Disney’s upcoming live adaptation of The Little Mermaid. That announcement was met with unwarranted yet unsurprising racist attention as some protested at Ariel’s race being switched to that of a black person, even though Ariel is a fictional character and the original movie utilizing Afro-Caribbean music influences in its soundtrack. Therefore it feels perfect that at a time when the world is confronting its long history of systemic racism, mainly against black people, that these young talented and unapologetically black female artists are launching their second studio album Ungodly Hour, and it feels like they’re aware of the increased attention this time around.
The album begins with a string-laden introduction that builds with the duo harmonizing, telling listeners to ask for forgiveness never permission which leads sonically and thematically into “Forgive Me”. It’s a dramatic confrontation as Chloe references the love interest who tried developing something with her while already being involved in a relationship, backed up by her sister Halle. She sarcastically apologizes for moving on and dismissing the relationship, asserting her independence and unwillingness to be played for a fool. The production utilizes its strings and stabbing synths to illustrate the tension of the situation. “Baby Girl” opens up with tropical-tinged production as we find the sisters at a low moment, and encouraging themselves to perk up & to do it for girls around the world, reminding themselves of their younger selves. It’s an empowering moment for fellow women, a reminder that they have the strength to do what they need to do even when they lack motivation. Lead single “Do It” is a trap-inflected upbeat R&B song that finds Chloe and Halle getting ready for a party and confidently brushing aside everything to focus on having a good time. It’s a more mature take on their sound that still sounds fun and continues their empowering and uplifting vibe on the album so far. Their vocal deliveries are both light and airy, sounding perfectly unbothered yet joyful and their harmonies add definition to the song alongside its heavy bass and ethereal synths. “Tipsy” is a reggae-tinged thundering warning from the girls that their love interest better treat me right or they will murder them, implying they have done it to other men in the past. The production here also adds gunshot-like bangs in the background, selling the outlaw theming of the song. Brother duo Disclosure infused Chloe and Halle’s R&B sound with their deep house on the title track “Ungodly Hour”, which sees the sisters calling out the insecurities in their love interest and expressing their mutual interest, but only if the love interest can come to terms with themselves. It’s a song from women who know what they deserve from a man and refuse to settle for less but demand better while still sounding enamored.
“Busy Boy” is a clubby R&B cut that sees the two calling out a suitor who has his hands in one too many pots, checking him for sending unwanted nudes & texting both her and her best friend, even mentioning the woman he already got pregnant. They admit that the boy in question is attractive but that his philandering ways eliminate any chance of getting together for real, only entertaining a flirtation but knowing better than to take it any further. “Catch Up” sees Chloe and Halle casting Swae Lee as their sparring partner, with them accusing each other of cheating on each other and getting back at each other. It’s a toxic back and forth that the largely guitar-led trap&b production allows the singers to tell uninhibited, giving them a battle-ready sound that allows everyone to shine. “Overwhelmed” is a brief interlude, reliant on piano and Chloe and Halle’s soaring harmonies to capture a moment where the girls confess to feeling less capable of handling the world around them than they hoped. It works as a good precursor to the thematic shift in the album where the persistently confident and resilient tone gives way for them to explore their vulnerabilities. “Lonely” boasts slower 90s-R&B indebted with a modern drum pattern that keeps it fresh and makes good usage of their knack for harmonies by using their background vocals to support the melody. Lyrically, they talk about having to learn to love themselves and learning how to stop feeling lonely and sad due to solitude, realizing that going out and partying isn’t a substitute for working on self-acceptance. “Don’t Make It Harder on Me” directly introduces a more retro-styled soul influence to their work, which perfectly plays off on their vocal chemistry as the girls mix their voices to achieve the layered vocals of girl groups from the era of music they reference here. The girls sing as one as they have done for the majority of the album, finding themselves unable to forget a love interest and urging him to ignore the attraction between them, even when they’re involved with someone else. “Wonder What She Thinks of Me” is an impassioned lament from the girls as they take on the role of side-chick, imagining that their love interest’s girlfriend knows about their affair & attempting to convince their love interest that they are the better match, attempting to justify the situation by using love as an excuse. There are elements of Spanish guitar in the production here that echo its significant presence in ’90s R&B, and both girls sing with conviction. Chloe and Halle end the album with a return to the empowering and uplifting content that permeated most of the album’s first half with “ROYL”, which sees them promoting a worldview where one takes risks and makes the most of the time they have alive. The production blends their vocals so they sound like they are chanting a mantra, establishing the manifesto they want to live by for the rest of their lives.
Sonically, Ungodly Hour allows Chloe x Halle to take their sound in a more commercial direction, in line with current R&B trends without discarding the elements that made them such a unique voice within the genre. With many songs boasting production from the girls themselves, Chloe and Halle feel completely in control of their artistry. Their vocal performances throughout the album are excellent and though they display a mastery over harmonization, their voices are distinct and each bring something special to the project — Halle’s admiration of jazz and Billie Holliday can be heard in the naturally sultry tone of her voice and Chloe’s knowledge of the R&B eras they reference on this album comes across in her delivery throughout the album. The album is an organic progression for them lyrically as well, addressing more adult situations and singing from a more mature and experienced perspective. From beginning to end, Chloe x Halle brim with star power and creative brilliance, exploring avenues to put their spin on the genre’s foundations. This is also a very empowering record and it does a good job of working as a record that aims to be a source of encouragement for listeners without sound patronizing. This feels like an album and an era that we need to experience right now — witnessing the excellence of two successful & gifted young black women as they come into their own and plant their flag as a promising and inspiring new voice of R&B for years to come.