Critical Voices: Jean Deaux, Krash

October 29, 2018

It wasn’t really clear what Jean Deaux’s Krash was going to be when it arrived. Jean Deaux has been featured on Smino and Mick Jenkins songs for the last couple years, dropping one-off EP’s and singles along the way, with little concern for a coherent release pattern. If anything, what the album wound up being was unpredictable. Strange interludes of questionable coherence, sex jams, and grungy-neo-funk raps all appear on the tape. Individually, the songs are successful, but they fit together as thoughtfully as Deaux’s release pattern: spotty and unfocused.

There is truly not one bad song in this project. Besides its odd intro, a short and out of place skit that finds Deaux the subject of some unspecified operation, everything else works as a stand alone piece. Songs like “Way Out” and “Say Less” establish a moody and atmospheric vibe, with dark bass sounds centering each track, and lush vocals filling in the large brush strokes of the tracks. Other songs like “Energy / Who U?” and “Back 2 U” are reminiscent of the acid house music of Deaux’s hometown, Chicago. The upbeat, breezy tracks are a nice change of pace from the murkier parts of the album, which come with her mumbly, melodic delivery. Her voice is delicate, the small runs she goes on like raindrops down a pachinko board left outside. But it can be easy to go deaf to the monotony of her gossamer whispers after a couple songs. Smartly,  she tries to cut the sameness of her voice with songs like “Code”, itself closer to nu-metal than rap, which speaks to her willingness to experiment.

The closing song, “Work 4 Me,” is reminiscent of an old Missy Elliot song in its drum pattern and female swagger. But the song also sounds like a single that you tuck away in the middle of a project to keep the momentum going. It is just so clear how much talent Deaux brings to the booth, and for Krash to come so painfully close to something incredible is tough. The project is forgettable in the way that the whole fails to elevate above its subsequent parts.

Though this is a criticism that could be levelled at most any mixtape in the modern rap climate, Deaux attempted much more than most, by including intricate skits and connecting songs across track breaks. The interludes are autobiographical, pulling from personal moments of her life. In that alone they have cohesion, but they also seem to pull away from the themes of the songs themselves. A pleading conversation between two bouncers stretches from the outro of “Say Less” into “Energy / Who U?” A distressed work-time call to an out-of-grasp lover interrupted by her manager ends “Energy / Who U?” A rainy intervention stopped by a car crash brings an abrupt stop to “Back 2 U.” Stylistically, they bring a cohesion to the project, but only in form. The lack of a cohesive, or at least understandable, narrative makes them disorienting and distract from the value of the songs as individual experiences.

Let me break and give recognition to the ability on display. Deaux’s style is situated firmly in the new-Chicago-soul style, a disciple of Saba and Noname. Her soft-mouthed diatribes cradle the listener in their quietude. However, she breaks from genre often and gleefully in Krash, pulling more from the neofunk tradition of the 90s, spearheaded by strong femme artists, than her contemporaries. This is no more clear than on “Say Less,” a sexy and introspective track that finds the instrumental guiding her lilt back to the shore of melody. Deaux balances many different styles and performances on one tape and each is successful; “Code,” “Way Out,” and “Back 2 U” hardly sound like they are made by the same artist, but they are all beautiful in their own right. Her stylistic range is impressive but ultimately creates an unsatisfying cohesion.

When an orchestra tunes—tunes perfectly—you can hear overtones. The vibrations of the instruments sync up just right so that a faint pitch about an octave higher than the sound made by the ensemble emerges from the ether, it exists only because of the conflation of sounds. These sounds are beautiful, and at times, Deaux concocts them, because she’s a talented musician. Krash is a curated space for female performance and romantic crooning, but it lacked the fine tuning to bring out the overtones it could have had.

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