Back in April I reviewed “Spells”, the lead single from Backxwash’s God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It. At the time I noted how this album promised to be one of the few high points of this awful year.
That album is here, and yes, that’s what it is. It’s also a deeply personal album. One drawn from a range of experiences and perspectives. All enhanced by its religious themes. Sin, redemption, the wicked and divine. The expectations society places on us. Traditional views on gender identity and sexuality versus the simple need (and right) to truly be yourself.
Christianity is still held up as a pillar of western civilisation, despite society’s increasing drift away from it. Historically anyone who deviated from its standards were heretics. It didn’t matter if they were good people or not. If the in-group could justify it, witches would burn.
These ideas chime with anyone from the LGBT+ community. Experiences widely vary, but we’ve all known some level of discrimination. And tragically transgender people, particularly people of colour, suffer horrendous oppression and violence on a daily basis.
It’s not hard to see why Backxwash’s work taps into this. Factor in her migration from Zambia to Canada, and you have a profile of someone all too familiar with divides and blurred lines. Conflicts internal and external.
Her first line on the opening title track is “Cross my heart and hope to die I wish blood on my enemies.” It’s defiant, resolute. Sentiments like this and “It’s not revenge if it evens out the demons out” contrast against the repeating plea of “Oh no no please God help me” in the background.
Family is a recurring theme throughout God…. That first track carries the line “Mama keep telling me, ask the Lord for forgiveness.” The implication being that Backxwash should repent for being herself.
“Black Sheep” is more explicit about this. Backxwash muses how it’s been years since she spoke to her granny, and that “It’s pretty sick that I lost a family”. If you’re able to conform then you won’t lose those you love. But you’ll lose yourself. Backxwash couldn’t, wouldn’t do that and ultimately became “Taller and even stronger”.
It’s important to point out that, despite the imagery and themes, God…is very entertaining. A lot of this comes from the simple fact that Backxwash is one hell of a performer. Her flow is very tight, and she’s incredibly charismatic.
Musically there’s a good deal of variety here. For example “Into the Void” surprised me because, to my ears, it would’ve fit in neatly on Manic Street Preachers’ dark, indie rock masterpiece The Holy Bible. From the opening sample telling us how “Jesus didn’t die for us so we could be half between two places”, to the guitar work, it builds on the genre-hopping vibe established by “Hell’s Interlude”.
“Into the Void” comes straight off the back of that track. “Hell’s Interlude” is an ambient track carrying witch house vibes. There’s glitches, but the bass and guitar lines draw it more towards shoe-gaze, which allows the transition to take place. “Hell’s Interlude” is where the shakeup begins.
“Adolescence” and “Amen” carry strong trip-hop vibes, reminiscent of Massive Attack and Portishead. They’re further evidence of Backxwash’s confidence as a composer, producer and someone willing to take hip hop in fascinating directions.
God…ends with “Redemption”. It’s driven by a deep beat and a blues melody which sounds like it’s playing on old, warped vinyl. Backxwash lowers the lights (somewhat) here. There’s still justifiable rage (“I wish I started sooner, fuck the hallelujahs”) but generally this is more pensive.
Family comes into it once again.“Feel like you lost a son but you gained a daughter” is a simple yet powerful statement. But overall “Redemption” has the feel of someone emerging into the light, or entering a river. Baptising themselves on their own terms.
In an interview with Pink Things, Backxwash talked about how she was part of the Tumbuka tribe. And how many of their spiritual practices would be classified as witchcraft. She went on to say:
We have something called Vimbuza. It’s where a masked person dances, and you are intoxicated by the dance. This dance is a way of healing you from your sickness.
Healing is at the core of everything Backxwash does. And God Has Nothing To Do With It Leave Him Out Of It is her most intoxicating dance to date.
You can find Backxwash here:
Label: Grimalkin Records
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