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MHYSA Neveah gets 7/10


MHYSA
NEVEAH
Hyperdub

7/10

On MHYSA’s second album, NEVEAH, the experimental RnB artist continues her a cappella-heavy approach to present the rawest and stripped-down tracks imaginable, casting the emotional heft of RnB in a whole new light.

MHYSA is the project name of artist E. Jane, who sees MHYSA as a “queer black diva and underground popstar for the cyber resistance”. Her debut album from 2017 was fantasii, which certainly raised a few eyebrows and got people scratching their heads as well, but was overall lauded in experimental circles as something distinctly new. For this follow-up album, MHYSA describes it herself as: “a prayer for black women and femmes to be taken to or find a new and better world away from the apocalypse… NEVAEH is a safe space, a sort of negro heaven.”

The tracks were recorded in her apartment in Philadelphia, and the immediacy of this environment lends itself well to the intimate, personal tracks. The songs are RnB by nature, but the key innovation is that music is stripped down to the bare minimals, providing a simple backing for MHYSA’s expressive voice. This results in moments of startling beauty within the skeletal tracks, with her singular voice the element that keeps everything together.

The album has several standouts, and many instrumentals, segue ways or straight-up short a cappella numbers. Many of the tracks have intensely personal and sexualised lyrics, such as ​before the world ends, jumping right out of the gate with: “I just wanna fuck to fuck because it feels good/ Armageddon could come, my body needs you”. ropeburn has only an ambient hiss hovering in the background, and is a love song to early morning bondage: “Tie me, tie me up, tie me down/ Make me moan real loud/ Tear off my clothes/ No one has to know/ Whisper, I will feel a soft ropeburn”. While brand nu concerns emotional blackmail with a lover, w/ me is about spending quality time alone sexually rather than hitting the club again to pick up someone for cheap thrills.

Although most tracks tend to be stately and slow, Sanaa Lathan gets positively jiggy. The track most ready-made for the dance floor, it’s a catchy, bouncy trap number with some big booty bass underneath the provocative and bold lyrics: “Brick house stacked thick, bitch/ Sanaa in the hips, bitch/ ‘Bout to make you cum when I switch”.

Perhaps a track that encapsulates the overall approach is near the end of the album, no weapon formed against you shall prosper. Just MHYSA’s tuneful voice singing a tale of suffering and persevering but then sustained synth notes interject to create just the right tension to give the lyrics a new-found edge: “Oh, it’s down a rugged road you’ve gone/ Though you had every reason, you didn’t come undone/ Somehow, you made it to the other side/ You didn’t suffer in vain”. Arresting stuff.

Not all the experiments and tracks work, especially the traditional cover of When The Saints Come Marching In to close, which wears out its welcome by the end (the brief ‘Interlude’ version near the beginning of the album would have sufficed). But this is countered by the success of the Nas/Lauren Hill track breaker of chains, pulled off by just voice and a tambourine to spine-chilling effect.

Overall, NEVEAH, like fantasii, is a mystifying listen with a strange appeal to it. It’s experimental music alright, but with a deep soul residing inside. The a cappella-first stylings can almost make it seem like you’re listening in to your super cool housemate singing in the shower, but then again this is the down-to-earth personal touch that MHYSA is trying drawing out of her tunes. Difficult to categorise, but with an RnB heart under the bonnet, MHYSA creates some enjoyable perplexity with NEVEAH.

PAUL DOUGHTY

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