Kadhja Bonet’s soul music is in a unique class. It’s composed into dense layers of classical instrumentation and rich vocal arrangements, pulled together harmoniously to produce a spacious psychedelic sheen. Her latest album, Childqueen, employs these characteristics to depict a deeply personal journey in which she seeks to detach herself from the unavoidable influences of man’s society and return to a state of innocence and purity.
Childqueen marks a significant leap forward in artistry for the young Bonet, who is primarily based in Los Angeles. Sonically, her new LP shares some similarities with her debut, The Visitor. A classically trained musician, the sound Bonet has crafted on her first two records incorporates bold arrays of strings, persistent flutes and mellow jazz percussion. Where Childqueen elevates itself into a higher caliber is in the progression of Bonet’s overall production and narrative themes. The textures of this record create a rich, wholesome sound, which is navigated by motifs that highlight a character’s (Bonet) independent struggle as they obtain clarity and peace.
The album opens with a declaration on “Procession”: “Every morning is a chance to renew,” Bonet sings in a haunting refrain over a rhythmic march. She then makes her way into groovier territory on “Childqueen” and “Another Time Lover.” The former achieves a divine sound thanks to beautiful and aggressive string arrangements and Bonet’s genie-like hushing, while the latter reduces itself to drums, bass and sporadic bells and buzzes, allowing the listener to hone in on Bonet’s dreamy harmonies. It’s one of multiple points on the album where the contrast of a subtle bassline amplifies the music’s psychedelic qualities.
Bonet turns on the slow burners for the dark, yearning ballad “Delphine.” Though somewhat patience testing, slower cuts like this one enable one to hear the masterful control Bonet has over her voice. Her breathy, airy style has a medieval wickedness that coats her smoothest songs with an unsettling beauty. This feeling weaves its way into the musical sections of Childqueen as well, most notably on “Joy,” a predominantly instrumental composition led by flutes and intense violins, also the spiritual climax of the record.
The back half of the LP continues to test the depths of psychedelic soul with “Wings” and “Mother Maybe.” These tracks harp on the virtuous nature of life and being a woman. “I only wish to understand the power in my hands,” she sings on the former. At this point, Bonet is not aimlessly searching, she’s yearning for something wholeheartedly, again nodding to the value of self realization and nurturing one’s own growth.
“Second Wind” dives further down the genre-blending wormhole with a spellbinding bassline on the chorus and more dramatic strings, which work to great cinematic effect. It is perhaps Bonet’s most impressive display of songwriting from a lyrical standpoint. Her pen illustrates the power of recognizing one’s own potential in such an eloquent manner. “Sometimes I forget moss grows from my lips, I am fertile, I am rich,” she croons gracefully.
In observing Kadhja Bonet’s wonderful skillset, the beauty of Childqueen as an overall production cannot be understated. She manifested her pursuit of purity into an elegant fusion of soul, R&B and psychedelia. Not only is it one of the most beautiful records of 2018, it is also one of the most mature and classy, both musically and thematically. Bonet’s brilliance is bound to impress again on future projects and it will be fascinating to see how far she can take her classical style. If Childqueen is any indication, we’re in for a treat.
Favorite tracks: Childqueen, Joy, Mother Maybe, Second Wind