The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

REVIEW: Angel Haze – ‘Back To The Woods’ (mixtape)

Front cover of 'Back To The Woods'

Front cover of ‘Back To The Woods’

by Ed Biggs

Having unexpectedly mis-stepped with 2013’s major label debut Dirty Gold, Angel Haze has decided to go back to the format of the mixtape for their next statement. Real name Raee’n Roes Wilson, Haze came out as agender earlier this year and prefers to be referred to by the singular, gender-neutral pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’, which this review will respect. Back To The Woods has seen them hire mad professor Tk Kayembe to bring back the sharp, rough edges from the first clutch of EPs to their sound, as opposed to the buffed, glossy and ill-fated experiments in EDM and pop of two years ago. As such, this is the debut that Haze should have dropped – an intoxicating, disorientating experience that sits in the futuristic sounding territory beyond R&B, hip-hop and electronica.

After the prickly intro of ‘D-Day’, Haze opens with a real assault on the senses in the form of ‘Impossible’, which rushes past in a startling blur of industrial noise with lyrics on consciousness and outsider-dom like “google search how to make a grenade” and “I’ve got my middle finger up to white America for trying to whitewash my blackness”. The scintillating ‘On Fire’, the bristling production techniques of ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ and the instant classic of ‘Babe Ruthless’, their defining anthem so far with its scattershot hi-hats and sinister slow-jam feel, are just the very best examples of the cutting edge production on display in Back To The Woods. Really, there’s been very little like it since FKA twigs’ LP1 just over a year ago.

By way of contrast, Haze is also equally impressive on the more introspective moments. On ‘The Wolves’, they confront the abuse, abandonment and poverty of their childhood in cathartic style, taking ownership of those experiences and recounting them over. The woods of the album’s title represent the only place where Haze felt safe after they were thrown out of their mother’s house as a child, and this is explored on the resplendent final track. The epic dark-pop of ‘The Eulogy’, which shows a total mastery of R&B as well as hip-hop, along with the sparse ‘Detox’ and the horrifyingly bleak ‘Dark Places’. Haze really does venture inwards and dig out their soul and expose it to the world, as they muse “maybe I was born too broke” among other broken non-sequiturs like “since I was young feel I been running out of time”. Despite the variety of styles, there’s a very clear sonic singularity to every moment.

Back To The Woods fully restores Angel Haze’s reputation as one of the most forward-thinking artists of their generation. An exploration of identity that flits between grandstanding spectacles and harrowing introspection, it’s also a deeply moving and fundamentally human experience. This is in contrast to the warm, fluid electronic productions, yet it’s strangely suitable as a reflection of the modern condition. It represents the increasing melding of the personal with the impersonal, of attempting to reconcile privacy with the mechanics of social media and technology that characterises all of our lives in 2015. When Haze bears their soul in the most wincingly private moment, we have a voyeuristic window into that. A beautiful, striking record. (9/10)

Listen to Back To The Woods here!

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