H.E.R.: Back Of My Mind
"Human." That's a word you'll see all over this review. While there are moments of tropey mainstream pandering, honestly Back Of My Mind is a gorgeous piece of music that grooves, dances, aches, yearns and traverses a soundscape that listeners just melt into.
But what should one expect from H.E.R.? She's gifted with the proverbial "old soul." As cliche as that sounds, the truth of the matter is she knows how to navigate the most brooding, most emotionally thick elements of her combined histories to create some truly mystifying, magnetic, magical music. Track "Bloody Waters" pays respectful homage to the organic realism of work from the likes of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. Meanwhile, "Hold On" melts and pours into the soul in the way only blues-tinged R&B can.
She gives musical roses to her contemporaries. The nod to Goapele's nature-dipped "Closer" in track "Closer to Me" envelopes the listener in earth tones. It's a gorgeous piece of music that, yes, deals with the heartache of lost love (to the whims of a one-sided libido). The brilliant use of Lauryn Hill's "Sweetest Thing" as the backdrop to a song that's almost its complete opposite in "Cheat Code."
It's visceral, honest, open. The type of maturity I want in music that explores the ups and downs of relationships. Yes, the subject matter is worn and ragged, but so are the souls of every person who's ever had to deal with the human error of trying to control something as nebulous and large as an emotion.
H.E.R. has the ability to give her diary entries an earnestness that's often lost. She isn't afraid to dig within herself. Puzzle her way through a tough memory, a jagged emotion. She comes out on the other side either even more confused or with a destination out of the tree-clogged forest of her thoughts.
While I'm not exactly on-board with some of her choices of collaborators, that's a small blip on an album that truly encapsulates the human experience in a way that many artists are still too afraid to try. While most hide behind bravado or try to whine their way through their truth, H.E.R. owns up to it. Realizes that it's sometimes hard to make it day to day and finds a way to do just that. Even when simply speaking openly and honestly, stripping herself of any excuses, fighting for each moment because that's what you do as a human being. You figure it out. Even if it takes surviving a series of tiny deaths to finally live.
Some of the song construction on Back Of My Mind is absolutely breathtaking. H.E.R. and the production team supporting her certainly found ways to make the incredibly simple into something sweeping, layered and truly fun to listen to. Tracks like "Lucky," "Mean It" and "Process" feel like separate universes while still managing to fit into the overall narrative. Sensuality treated like the lush, gorgeous human thing that it is. Without the hyperbole. Without needing to overexert how good it feels just to feel good.
Back Of My Mind is one of those albums that certainly carries the title heavily on its shoulders. Every single track is a thought she's played with, toyed with certain ideas without voicing them until this very moment. Human, real, unfettered without the need to pretty up (or ugly down) the experience. H.E.R. simply lives in it and takes us on a tour of the theme park of her mind.