Although Hues is billed not as Fana Hues’ debut album but instead a collection, it has nearly all the ambition and forthrightness of a fully formed LP. Across 24 uncompromising minutes, Hues painstakingly digs through the rubble of a failed relationship, threads of adoration and ecstasy glimmering amidst swaths of rage and regret. The Pasadena-based 25-year-old’s honesty is as captivating as her beat-heavy pop, which is indebted to psychedelia and rock as well as R&B and hip-hop.
Since Hues mostly comprises pained reflections on its creator’s former relationship, the exultant moments shine especially brightly. “The stars aligned / For your heart and mine,” Hues sings atop waltzing midtempo pianos during the chorus of “Death on the Vine.” Not that the joy lasts long—the very next lyric is the especially brutal couplet “Then slowly dragged us to / Death on the vine.” It’s melodramatic, more than a bit Shakespearean, and probably familiar to anyone who’s ever experienced a crumbling relationship, and it’s likely why the lovestruck Hues lyrics “Beyond the mountains and past the heavens / You say it’s all mine if I want it” are on a song conversely titled “Notice Me.”
The hurt abounding through Hues likewise makes the collection’s sparse sexual lyrics jump forward like the new construction on a block full of longstanding rowhomes. “I’ll rest on his face right in the mirror / Make sure you hear us / Come and kiss ya,” she sings on “Layup,” a bold fusion of rapping, R&B and kicks that sound like J Dilla express-shipped them from heaven. It’s hip-hop braggadocio with a sick twist—the person who’s presumably going down on her isn’t her partner, though her partner can hear the whole affair. Her justification? “You led me astray / What more can I say.” And when she is having sex with her partner, she’s “searching for soul,” because her partner sure can’t complete her.
That last line comes from “Snakes and Elephants,” maybe the angriest Hues cut. Over lightly hallucinogenic, jazzy production that might explain why Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt are professed Hues fans, her old flame is “mister anticlimactic,” someone whose intelligence is a front for his cruelty. Hues also sinks this especially harsh shot: “So now you say you want a woman / But baby is you even a man? / Fuck where you come from / ‘Cause boy we all got pain.” It’s as brash and devastating as it is distraught, and the way that Hues often sounds like she’s reaching for her last breath only emphasizes her heightened emotions.
Hues’ former partner isn’t the only subject of her ire—like the leading R&B voices such as Mary J. Blige and Dionne Warwick whom Hues cites as inspirations, she looks inward, too. With only a bass guitar and a thin layer of strings guiding her on “If Ever,” she confesses that making her heart “yours to keep” was “easier said than done.” On “Death on the Vine,” she admits that “I can’t help my backwards ways / I speak before I think.” And on “Icarus,” the twinkling guitars of which are equal parts demo-reel Currents and first-take CTRL, she laments: “How did I get so close? / Prolly God only knows / Saw the signs, still I go.”
Despite the despair, it all works out. Closer “Yellow” is far and away Hues’ most joyous track, its titular color recalling sunshine and glee while its jazzy backdrop and multi-layered vocals gleam with excitement. “He’ll love me all night love if I say so / I ain’t even gonna check the bill ‘cause it’s paid for,” Hues sings, as if in a fantastical daydream. It’s a heartwarming vision, too: When she belts “I finally know what I want!” it’s hard not to smile along with her. After all the pain, Hues is finally happy.
Sometimes, Max Freedman sits and writes about music, and sometimes he just sits. Follow him on Twitter, where he has been hailed as “an incredible person with an incredibly bad internet connection.”