Singer-songwriter and musician Mal Devisa has all the skill and sweetness of 19-era Adele, an introspective Shamir, or a juvenile Nina Simone. But, like the latter, Devisa’s musical sensibility wrestles with a greater, angrier, uglier force of will–and that’s why she makes fantastic records. On her first full-length album, Kiid, the Northampton, Massachusetts-based artist (born Deja Carr) delivers her most conceptually evocative piece of work to date. A more than apt guitarist and bass player, Devisa’s real power lies in the sweeping versatility of her vocals. Kiid‘s convoluted vision of rock contains jazz, gospel and R&B–implemented by her towering range and formidable tenor– and then revolts. Upon closing track “Dominatrix,” she’s fully converted, rapping furiously about the patriarchy and slave shackles over a cacophonous trap beat.
Mal Devisa’s slower, more somber songs concern themselves with love and living, existential musings that manifest in poignant one-liners (“Does it kill you to know that we’re all dying?”, “Why do we live again?”) Nestled between these serene and spare ballads like “Sea of Limbs” and “Everybody Knows” are intimidating, rhythmically aggressive digressions. “Why do wanna start a fight with me/ Have you come to build your history/ Well I’m not gonna bargain with you,” she bellows over a scuzzy bass line on “In My Neighborhood.”
Some tracks, incidentally my favorite ones, manage to include both juxtaposing forces like the punk howl of “Fire” or the swaggering soul shuffle of “Daisy.” At two minutes each, these tracks are also some of the album’s most undeveloped ideas with abrupt, unresolved endings. But I’m not mad. Kiid is an ambitious texture project, a mere first taste that makes me incredibly stoked for the future of Mal Devisa.
Mal Devisa will perform at the NYC Women’s Jazz Festival on March 21 in Harlem at the New York Public Library Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Details here.
Stream Kiid below.