- Solitary bedroom songs with a subtle pop spirit.
- E. Jane (they/them), a conceptual artist living in Philadelphia, uses their performance persona MHYSA (she/her) to explore the hopes, dreams and fantasies of black women and femmes. "What do I feel denied because I am a Black woman?" she asks on her first album, fantasii. The ensuing songs followed a "protagonist wanting to be vulnerable, to be loved, wanting to fight, to be glorious, to have power, and to own their body and sexuality." Conceptual as it may be, it was convincing because it was radically honest.
On NEVAEH, her new album for Hyperdub, the music gets so up close and personal one starts to feel intimately connected to the artist within. Take the lyrics on "w me:" "I'm not going to the afterparty," MHYSA sings over bare-bones production. "I'm gonna go home / Touch myself, I'd rather be alone / Smoke some tree and have a private moment / Show my body I own this." Much of NEVAEH hovers in this kind of solitary bedroom setting, a place where masturbating, journaling and writing music all blur into the process of making art.
The outcome may be quiet in sound and texture, but its messages are bold. NEVAEH reads like a collage of MHYSA's identity, filling dreamy reverb and skeletal R&B beats with bits of criticism, pop culture and autobiography. First, there's a reading of Lucille Clifton's 1993 poem, "won't you celebrate with me." "Come celebrate with me that everyday / Something has tried to kill me / And has failed," MHYSA reads. It sounds beautiful and resigned, acknowledging the plight of black womanhood, the unspoken strength that's required to endure everyday life.
Elsewhere, MHYSA leaves more clues to evoke her experience. She frequently samples birdsong, cars parking, keys jingling in the door—the sounds of moving through Philly. She pays homage to her Southern lineage, with the swaggering hip-hop beat on "Sanaa Lathan" and the gospel influence on "when the saints (reprise)." She alludes to black escapism and black futurism in her haunting acapella covers of "When The Saints Go Marching In" and Nas' "If I Ruled The World." More than anything, though, MHYSA reflects on sex and pleasure with a sense of empowerment, written with the directness of Lil Kim, the softness of Jill Scott and, most distinctly, the queerness of E. Jane.
MHYSA is a self-taught musician, which is reflected in the simplicity of the production. Her tracks—short, imperfect, meandering—sound like off-the-cuff bedroom experiments. But this is what gives NEVAEH its authenticity. MHYSA gets most expressive with her vocal processing, sometimes rapping in hot bursts, sometimes creating soft and surreal textures, other times using abrasive distortion and noise. When beats do appear, they're patient and sparse, highlighting the artist's contentment with silence. MHYSA calls herself a "pop star for the cyber resistance," but her minimalist productions don't rely on catchy melodies or swelling emotion. In other words, NEVAEH has nothing to hide behind. We just get MHYSA, clear as day.
01. Opening Skit
03. before the world ends
04. na na drift
05. when the saints (interlude)
06. sad slutty baby wants more for the world
08. w_me interlud
10. no freedom
11. breaker of chains
12. Sanaa Lathan
13. honey, sweetie, baby
15. brand nu
16. BELIEVE Interlude
17. no weapon formed against you shall prosper
18. when the saints (reprise)