by Alisha Acquaye
I call it "mood music": anything by Lianne la Havas, Yuna, Trixie Whitley, KING, or the like, can be so achingly lovable, empathetic, sensual and light, that it lifts you above whatever you're doing in the moment and places you in a tranquil mood. Or it's too much of an emotional roller coaster that you can only listen when you're in a heartbroken or vulnerable space. Havas' tunes fall somewhere between both of these ideas: she has powerful yet painfully honest ballads that play with your heartstrings, or joyful praises of love and self awareness that are so syrupy-sweet it feeds your soul.
What I admire most about Havas is that she doesn't try to be anything she's not. She isn't experimental, or particularly innovative, or musically queer or has a disruptive, groundbreaking presence that makes us all think twice. Although I do appreciate musicians who have these traits, I like that Havas sounds refreshingly old. She's very young - 26 - but her style suggests that she grew up listening to Phyllis Hyman or Sam Cooke, has an essence of feminine 60's crooning and calling, and is laced together with a folksy, humble, poetic feel. She is the music world's reminder that millennial sounds can be reflective of the past, with its own creative and modern twist.
The timelessness of her music lends her a versatility and relevance that makes her easy to adore. Her new sophomore album, Blood, reveals all of the obvious traits of a growing artist - maturity, a more crafted, confident aesthetic, meticulous selection of songs and arrangement - and still manages to make us fall in love with her all over again.
"Music videos, especially female R&B or hip hop ones, generously cater to the male gaze, either making us women feel like there's something we need to be doing better sexually or physically, or just not showing a realistic representation of what us women are like or like." - Alisha Acquaye
She seduces us into her world with “Unstoppable”, her opening track that is accompanied with a music video. The visuals are so flirtatious and simple that it's easy to watch several times without losing interest. A friend once told me about her excitement over music videos that feature the female singer alone in a setting without any interruption or additional people (think Tamia's throwback Stranger in My House) and how sexy and empowered that made her feel. Music videos, especially female R&B or hip hop ones, generously cater to the male gaze, either making us women feel like there's something we need to be doing better sexually or physically, or just not showing a realistic representation of what us women are like or like.
The “Unstoppable” music video features her in a variety of stylish outfits, dancing gleefully in a big house and singing without a care. That is SO what most of us women would be doing in real life (she's in a similar situation in "What You Don't Do", but there's a lot more color and less dancing). I would love to see visuals for “Midnight”, her booming, playful track referencing her "crazy" side. Maybe the visuals would show her leading us to her after dark getaway, or a dope jazz club in the city?
Music video imagery aside, Blood carries on this idea of candidness, fluidity and sincerity. "Green and Gold" reminds me of the wonder and self-awareness of girlhood, which evolves into the magic and self-assurance of womanhood; from young Havas gazing at her childhood self in the mirror with curiosity and uncertainty, to her present self, looking around at her world and understanding exactly how she fits into the equation.
“Tokyo” illustrates the complexity of being a traveler in love. At some parts she's distant and mysterious, with an empowered spirit, and at other parts she's lonely and lovesick, desiring to be held by a lover that's miles away. The instrumental arrangement and progression of “Tokyo” feels reminiscent of John Mayer's “Assassin”, his sly, seductive track on “lovin’ em and leavin’ em alone”. Nonetheless, her opening line "I am neon...not a mystery", encourages me to play with the idea of this being a John Mayer-esque track, because he has a song called “Neon” from back in the day that describes a mysterious, untamable woman he desires.
Havas’ Blood can be interpreted in many ways. It could be an extended metaphor for emotion and passion: we often use "heart" in reference to romantic love and pain (heartbroken, he stole my heart, she's in my heart). Love (in our hearts) wouldn't be possible without the pumping of blood. Maybe this is Havas' clever way of thinking about blood in a romanticized sense.
Blood can also be compared to Spike Lee's reinterpretation of addiction, in his movie "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus". Perhaps Havas is playing with the idea of our addiction to love. But more obviously speaking, it could be directly related to her track “Grow”, a powerful song about love and prevailing relationships.
Or, quite simply, her album is so good, so effortless, so vital, like the blood that needs to pump through our veins. Her lyrics and hypnotizing vocals flow through us just as smoothly.