There is a double pleasure in discovering the music of LA psychedelic-soul artist Kadhja Bonet. There is, first of all, the joy to be found in the music: warm and inviting, completely drenched in a sticky sense of pleasant nostalgia, the songs seem to have been beamed to us directly from the 1970s. This sense of timelessness seems to place Bonet’s work among the legion of record store oddities, which gathered dust in crates before being recognised as brilliant works – musicians like Linda Perhacs and Kim Jung Mi spring to mind, not due to sonic similarities, but more in the sense we are listening to something that was once lost, now found.
The second pleasure, therefore, is finding that – despite her ‘70s stylings – Bonet is very much a modern artist, who only put out her debut album a couple of years ago. Her 2016 LP, entitled The Visitor, was a well-curated collection of beautiful songs, with a clearly-defined sound – a curious mixture of soul, psychedelia, and funk. The name of the album was appropriate: Bonet seems in many ways like some kind of visitation, someone plucked from another time and space, only touching down for a brief instance.
With Childqueen, her follow-up, Bonet continues to plunder from a vast array of sources, but develops her confidence, creating a sound that is excitingly entirely her own. The first few minutes of Childqueen sound similar to The Visitor: on opening track, ‘Procession’, she advises us that “every morning brings a chance to renew, chance to renew,” like some kind of spiritual advisor at dawn. A marching drum beat then starts up, the military atmosphere contrasting with the funky bass guitar line and fluttering flutes, which cut through the ethereal glittering synths enshrouding Bonet’s vocals. The next track, ‘Childqueen’, starts off with swelling strings, before morphing into a laid-back soul track, which sounds like it could be played over the opening credits to a ‘60s psych-pop film.
“Bonet seems in many ways like some kind of visitation from another time and space”
From this point on, however, Bonet makes a subtle but noticeable departure from her sound on The Visitor: while in her first album the tracks seemed to be much more free-floating, on Childqueen they are often anchored by a series of incredibly-funky bass riffs, giving the songs a lot more energy and presence. ‘Thoughts Around Tea’, for example, features rat-a-tat drums pierced by stabbing synth progressions, while a looping bassline runs underneath it all; Bonet’s delivery is fluent and funky, as she lyrically contorts to fit around the pulsating beat. She pulls a similar trick on ‘Wings’, stretching her vocals around the music, elongating a phrase here and there to create a sense of relentless motion, hitting all the right intonations.
‘Mother Maybe’, one of the early singles released from the album, is probably as funky as Bonet gets: cymbol tapping is overlaid with wobbly bass guitar, while ray-gun synths and organ warbles flow underneath, to create a dense tapestry of sound. This intense weft and warp cuts out towards the end of the track, as Bonet launches into a series of incredible vocal runs, displaying her impressive voice.
And what a voice it is. Silky smooth, Bonet’s vocals emanate an inner warmth; she manages to sound a little a little like any number of iconic soul vocalists – Dusty Springfield, Minnie Riperton, Roberta Flack – while remaining completely idiosyncratic. Often she’ll layer her singing to create a form of cosmic harmony, but at times she’ll leave herself completely exposed. The majority of her vocals are delivered in a sort of whisper-singing, as if she’s speaking right into your ear; on occasion, however, she’ll let rip, such as on the later sections of ‘Delphine’. It’s the track on this album that sees Bonet’s vocals most up-front. The drums are barely-there, and the wonky bass, as thick as syrup, allows plenty of room for her to break through the dizziness, crafting a track that seems to drip with yearning.
“Silky smooth, Bonet’s vocals always emanate an inner warmth”
On ‘Another Time Lover’ she shows us the excellent control she has over her voice, producing a jelly-like vibrato that quivers before stealing into pure, clear notes; elsewhere, on ‘Joy’, she multiplies her voice until it resembles an angelic chorus. The album ends with the appropriately titled ‘…’, which culminates in a phenomenal series of vocal acrobatics, with Bonet inching up higher, and higher, and higher, before disappearing, transferred onto another astral plane most likely.
Bonet is a hugely exciting artist. A talented multi-instrumentalist – she played pretty much every instrument on the album – she came out of the gate with an instantly-recognisable style, confident in her ability to know exactly who she is. While sampling from the classic toolbox of psychedelia, funk, and soul, Bonet’s production will include samples of off-kilter weirdness – chirping birds, popping bubbles, a jazzy flute solo – that ensures it never settles into normalcy.
On social media, Bonet has admitted to struggles with funding; a European tour was cancelled last year, after she said she would be losing too much money, while her desire to produce music videos has been stymied by financial worries. It’s clear that, as an artist, Bonet’s vision is outstripping her resources. With the backing she so dearly deserves, who knows what heights she could scale.
Artist: Kadhja Bonet. Label: Fat Possum Top Tracks: Delphine; Another Time Lover; Mother Maybe. For Fans Of: Moses Sumney; ESKA. 37 minutes