Like many, I discovered Kacy Hill through her hypnotically glitchy debut single “Experience,” released in the latter half of 2014. It was around this exact time that the model turned dancer was performing night after night as one of the ensemble in Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ Tour. West was also taken with her first foray into music, and promptly signed her to his G.O.O.D. Music label. In the years since, we have been teased with the knowledge that her debut was in the works, being tirelessly tinkered on by West, always the perfectionist. The result is Like a Woman, out now via Def Jam, a record that reflects this attention to detail but, frustratingly, leaves a lot to the imagination.
However, one thing that is abundantly clear is what a supremely gifted vocalist Hill is. The title track is among the most seductive R&B jams of the year thus far, enhanced by an evocative music video that oozes sex appeal. Her breathy soprano is simultaneously fragile and hearty, able to flit between breathless flirt and full-throated diva in an instant. Her ability to seamlessly differentiate tone is reflected amply across the album’s dozen tracks; a song like “Clarity” effuses a vibrato that calls to mind vocalists like Enya, while “Static” hews closer to the vein of a dance club pop priestess a la Sia.
Speaking of dance club pop priestesses, the most curious foray on Like a Woman comes in the form of the previously-released single “Hard to Love.” To call it the outlier of the full-length would be gross understatement; in an album full of pristinely-polished trip-hop-influenced R&B, “Hard to Love” is a go-for-broke piece of power pop that Kelly Clarkson would have killed to get her hands on. And though it may stick out like a sore thumb, it inevitably stands as one of the strongest cuts on the record, an absurdly catchy and uplifting string of pop hooks that persistently try to outdo one another.
The melodic strength of these singles is not as clearly felt elsewhere on the record, but this is more than made up for by the immaculate production work courtesy of West. It is of course as flawless as you’d expect it to be, but what flows particularly well are the tracks in which he utilizes digital elements to play around with Hill’s gorgeously human vocals. This is a natural evolution for West, who has so frequently used artists like Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon as inspiration to create his own brand of heartfelt ‘indie-electro-soul,’ but he has produced some wonderful examples of this sound here.
“First Time” for instance, is a haunting ballad that utterly mechanizes Hill’s breathy cadence. The first verse not only plunges her register into a slightly autotuned framework but is harmonized with a gurgling, barely human register running an octvave under her. A similar sound is employed in “Keep Me Sane,” a track where nearly ever vocal line is either shadowed or trailed by a duplicate Hill passage, as if a chorus of clones or androids were helping her bring the track to life.
Yet for a record that functions so smoothly on the interplay between robotic and organic sounds, the album falls short of delivering a real impact based on one serious shortcoming: the near-robotic aloofness of Hill herself. While she demonstrates profound talent, Like a Woman shows very little in the way of her character. Her aesthetic, both visually and sonically, is one extremely en vogue right now, making it hard for her to establish her own persona in a world currently being dominated by like-minded peers such as FKA twigs and Kelela.
With such an illustrious (and meteoric) rise to the upper echelons of the music industry, it is no wonder that the casual listener is curious as to the precise nature of just who Kacy Hill is. The problem lies in that her debut album isn’t offering any answers.
Read our interview feature with Kacy Hill right here.
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