California’s own H.E.R. has made each step count. The careful creator first won attention back in 2017, and while the industry’s clamour for immediacy has grown ever louder, she’s done things her own way. ‘Back Of My Mind’ is her long-awaited debut album, and it’s certainly utilised her time well – finely contoured, carefully finessed, it utilises R&B as its starting point while yearning towards a broader sense of soul that is curiously more universal, while becoming yet more personal.
An album laden with fantastic collaborators, H.E.R.’s role as curator and lead vocalist isn’t something she takes lightly. Indeed, there’s a sub-album within her of her solo vocals – the pristine ‘Damage’ for example, augmented by its koto flourishes; or the sublime ‘Process’ with its weaving, transcendent lyric.
Yet it’s impossible to ignore the scale of talent on here. Ty Dolla $ign appears on the title track, and it feels like a true moment for both artists – rarely has H.E.R. been so raw, conjuring a moment of intimacy from Ty. The ever-industrious Thundercat appears on ‘Bloody Waters’, the two West Coast artists conjuring something from the depths of Californian soul. Lil Baby adds swagger to punchy roller ‘Find A Way’, while Yung Bleu is the perfect counterweight on ‘Paradise’.
Boasting 21 tracks on the Apple Edition alone, ‘Back Of My Mind’ is a true blockbuster. H.E.R. is resisting labels and pushing past boundaries – check out the whispered incantations of ‘Don’t' or the soul-bearing artistry of ‘Hard To Love’.
In its length and scope, there’s a feeling here of witnessing H.E.R. in 360 – panoramic R&B that more than justifies the wait, a sumptuous, multi-faceted jewel that seems to reveal fresh colour with each play. Speaking to Clash last year, H.E.R. seemed to perfectly encapsulate her approach, one that wrestles with unbridled freedom and personal expression: “You can’t put a label on something that touches everybody…”
Words: Robin Murray
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