LA canary-crooner Kadhja Bonet’s sophomore LP Childqueen opens with, ironically, a little message that’s very universal and avoidant of the egotistical, naïve and hubristic: “Every morning brings a chance to renew”. A couple of things jump out at you, then, right away in your encounter of this new and majestic brand of jazz-pop she’s delivering here. One is that her voice is AMAZING, not only clear and effortless way up in the falsetto register that she dwells in but full of tone and perfectly on pitch, as well. Album opener “Procession,” in other words, already has the sort of classic quality that emerges and lords over the extant musical canon, commanding attention to its own rhapsodic element. This is music poised to become permanently affixed in our culture.
I realize I’m laying the praise on thick here. Well, part of me is mad for taking this long to hear about this album, as it came out in June and was just this week the subject of a new Bandcamp post. Anyway, this complete inability to get noticed on her part should assuage her of some of the guilt of calling herself a “childqueen,” I guess (there are no actual “children” in the subject matter of any of the lyrics, as far as I heard).
Now to be honest I have no idea who produced this album, which is sort of problematic since it’s very heavily produced (if not necessarily to say “overproduced,”as it were). No personnel information is available on Bandcamp and Itai Shapira is credited with Bonet’s 2014 debut single, so I guess that’s about as good a guess as I can hurl out at this current time. Anyway, string is easily the most primary instrument at work in establishing Childqueen’s signature soundscape, dancing around and congealing in capricious melody not unlike the work of Quincy Jones on Michael Jackson’s Bad, et. al.
Track two’s title track is a beautiful but somehow stately expedition in the fantastical capabilities of American music, with shrieking violins flanking the proceedings all the way through and gentle percussion like xylophone peppering some flavor onto the almost impossibly spare drum part. You might not believe me, but this song has a DISTINCT Sufjan Stevens vibe about it, harking things back to his very best work like the “Come on! Feel the Illinoise!” title track. This is not to say that one is better than the other, although to her credit, Bonet certainly has a knack for preserving this music’s BLACK element – it’s undeniably and relentlessly rhythmic and full of disciplined restraint, with a sort of Stevens-y stem for, in my opinion, elevating it into a transcendent realm of enjoyability.
Another most curious track of note here is the puzzlingly and astonishingly spare, two-minute “Thoughts around Tea,” which I think again channels Stevens with its skittish string melodies but also unfolds the sort of jazzy, invigorating chord progression that might call to mind Anderson .Paak’s best work. It’s got the classic feel of an album finale, although it’s only the fifth out of nine, with playful, Broadway-like vocals and a drum part which is again noticeably spare, although programmed this time instead of live. Bonet’s vocal part contains multiple tracks dubbed over each other, making for an awesome otherworldly effect despite the fact that you never really know what the lyrics are, or if she’s in falsetto, or even if all the tracks are hitting the same note. It’s as if the “tea” noted in the song’s title has taken on dilatory qualities and created some twisted, hallucinogenic state of mind (it could obviously be a reference to Jack Kerouac’s connotation of “tea,” which is marijuana). Anyway, this song is as familiar and comforting as it is original and innovating, making for a fine album centerpiece.
But variety is key to this album. Every song stays fresh all the way through by marking itself as different from its predecessor in both mood and style. Along these lines, the way that this becomes classic music is by actually FUSING mood and style into one sonic and rhythmic organism, so that it becomes hard to tell where one ends and the other one begins.