sat 24/08/2019

CD: Angel Haze - Dirty Gold | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Angel Haze - Dirty Gold

CD: Angel Haze - Dirty Gold

Female MC from New York plays a bold hand on major label debut

Angel Haze demonstrates the Midas touch

Angel Haze learnt the art of crafting an identity from gigantic pop icons. Raised in what she describes as a cult, she was unable to hear pop music until the age of 14, when she discovered - and devoured - everything at once. Her backstory, involving repeated abuse, sheds light on the rapper and singer’s major label debut Dirty Gold, an album that weaves together the scathing confessionalism of Eminem, the bombastic fire of the EDM boom, syrupy R&B choruses and a series of self-mythologising field recordings that mirror those all over Beyoncé’s recent opus.

Everything comes to a head in the understated closing track

Sonically, there’s a lot about Dirty Gold that is derivative and even garish; the club-ready synth stabs of lead singles “Echelon” and “A Tribe Called Red” make for the record’s least enjoyable moments, and radio ballad “Angels & Airwaves” nods to early-Noughties American pop-punk with its reference to the Blink 182 spin-off and its unflinching lyrics about contemplating suicide set to an uplifting chorus. “Battle Cry”, a song co-written by and featuring pop anthem overlord Sia, is almost too Sia for its own good. At moments like this, Haze’s relatability becomes swamped by over-familiar, cheesy signifiers that almost detract from her sincerity.

angel hazeBut that sincerity, when it does break through, is blistering. Stinging, incomparable moments include Haze’s impersonation of a preacher and exploration of the meaning of religious belief on “Black Synagogue” - a track that sees the overpowering discourse of her upbringing intertwined with the pop discourse she gorged herself on as soon as she was free - and lines like the bitter “I was busy building castles for a dead man” on the total jam “Deep Sea Diver”. “White Lillies/White Lies” is a stand-out track, and like all other such moments on this album, its brilliance is wrapped up in elements that are also repellent and difficult. Between its drunken, staggering percussion and almost religious chords, Haze explores the prowling low-end of her vocal range as she snarls her way through a story about her stripper friend, with lyrics that make you wince: “Whose daughter’s on that stage?”. Halfway through, the track breaks down into a smouldering slow jam, weaving a story that clings uncomfortably to your skin like static electricity.

Everything comes to a head in the understated closing track, “Dirty Gold”, which sees a distorted Haze rapping about her past lack of self-esteem over a swell of piano chords and quivering strings. It’s the most explicit expression of a theme that runs throughout this album, of Haze taking her soapbox moment to address her past self - aka the underdog, the outsider, the victim - and to provide some hope. As the album closes full of peace and optimism, it makes sense to go back and listen to the first track, the brash and joyous “Sing About Me”, where Haze puts behind her the fact that she “never really had friends” for the new realisation that her own life is the subject of pop songs now.

Overleaf: Watch the video for "Echelon (It's My Way)"

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