We are seeing a relatively new trend in mainstream music, partly due to COVID. Hours upon melancholic hours stuck inside have shifted the public outlook, and with it the direction of our pop culture. More and more popular acts and albums abandon the glitz associated with pop in the name of more subdued, minimalistic, personal pieces.
And nowhere is this gradual musical shift better exemplified than in Jazmine Sullivan’s new album, Heaux Tales. Part album and part character study, the work demonstrates pop’s slow maturing over the years, presenting struggles over relationships, sexuality, and broader concepts associated with femininity in a sensitive and mature light.
A subdued anthology
As someone who generally prefers rowdy, aggressive music, I was taken a bit back by the album’s minimalistic, subdued instrumentation. As it progresses, however, you will find that both the dramatic stakes and the sound itself becomes more rich and soaring, culminating in “The Other Side” — a phenomenal, dramatic piece whose impact is felt all the more if you let the other tracks build up first. Sullivan puts her experience in choirs to good use, crafting a thick atmosphere without a single note appearing extraneous or forced.
This then brings me to the Tales part of Heaux Tales. Both the spoken word pieces and the songs themselves give an impression of reading through an anthology, the unrelated stories still forming a surprisingly coherent experience. The Tales — thirty-second spoken word pieces from the perspective of various women – address a diverse range of issues, from insecurity to infidelity to ambition, all under the umbrella of the characters’ relationships with their sexuality.
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It’s a very refreshing take on female sexuality too — not glamorized or exploited for primal sex appeal, instead each tale feeling like the ruminations of multidimensional, diverse experiences. I dare say these thirty-second logs convey more complex character than multi-season shows do over their entire runtime. As someone who loved character monologues in his green high school drama years, it’s a nice bit of nostalgia too.
Heaux Tales isn’t really an exhilarating ride, nor is it a three-act rock opera that shakes you to your very core. But its brevity and simplicity only let its inner beauty shine more. We’re all likely feeling lonely, and down on our luck, and certainly vying for more intimate contact. While music isn’t the answer to our ailing sociability, Sullivan’s mature, clearly loving introspection of femininity and life in general is certainly going to leave you more empathetic of the people around you, or at the very least provide a much-needed dose of refined, well-crafted comfort.