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Kadhja Bonet - Childqueen Music Album Reviews

Kadhja Bonet - Childqueen Music Album Reviews
The psych-soul singer summons the confidence and exuberance of childhood on an immersive sophomore album.

Childhood used to be a phase. Now, it’s a lifestyle. Whether your inner child seeks coloring books, Capri Suns, or gourmet PB&J, those urges can easily be satiated. This surplus of nostalgia has become so normalized that we have a term for when responsibilities disrupt the sugar rush: adulting. You can only say it with a sigh.

There’s an undercurrent of deep dissatisfaction with adulthood in all this childhood worship, but you won’t find it in Kadhja Bonet’s Childqueen. The psych-soul singer envisions childhood as a becoming rather than a refuge. To be a childqueen is to unearth the pneuma buried beneath adult insecurities and anxieties and self-effacement. The childqueen is not longed for or lost to time; always near, she is summoned. And it isn’t a coincidence that she’s a queen. “We have to be brave enough to bend or break our social inheritance. We have to teach our girls confidence. We have to teach our girls that it’s OK to be seen, to take up space, to use our voices and make mistakes,” Bonet told DIY in 2016, alluding to the gendered undertones of her own struggles with confidence.

Shedding the self-conscious shell of her ornate but bashful 2016 debut, The Visitor, Bonet finds a voice that is expansive and engulfing on Childqueen. It swells, it ascends, it cuts, it carries. Lead single “Mother Maybe” casually sways between warm, balmy coos and surging, sustained shrieks. It is neither an ode to her own mother nor a song of herself, but in it Bonet treats motherhood with wide-eyed wonder, cherishing the mere capacity to produce life. Her voice curls deftly around the shared consonants in “mother” and “maybe,” blurring the words while dwelling on their differences. “Mother maybe/I may be mother,” she chants in the final bridge, scaling her vocal range as she appraises her innate power. The intimacy and joy of her self-recognition feel like a reversal of the movie trope of women looking in mirrors and crying.

Arranged, performed, produced, and mixed by Bonet alone, Childqueen is a labor of willful independence. “Joy” takes full advantage of this autonomy, spinning chunks of frenzied violin, peppy flute, and guitar plucks into a yawning expanse. Even as she sings of lost joy, Bonet’s voice feels unyoked, floating in and out of the foreground. “...,” another near-instrumental, uses flute trills and stabs of bright synths to build to a blissful flicker. “La-lala-la-la,” Bonet sings absentmindedly. Shrouded in her own sounds, she luxuriates in quiet contentment.

By themselves, these flights of indulgence might suggest a narcissistic wunderkind throwing jam sessions in her bedroom, but Childqueen often uses characters’ senses of self to explore relationships and the wider world. “Delphine,” sung from the perspective of an obsessive lover, uses the narrator’s fixation to expose the selfishness that can fuel desire. Bonet pronounces “Delphine” with a skillful, cloying tenderness that becomes sickening as the narrator loses sight of Delphine as a person. “I found your favorite ring/Behind the bed/What’s the matter?/Sweet sweet Delphine,” Bonet sings as Delphine drifts away.

“Thoughts Around Tea” tells the story of a courtship that never progresses due to declined invitations and deferred meetups. As the story briskly unfolds, Bonet focuses on how the main characters, a worker from a city and a farmer from the countryside, are too afraid to leave their respective milieus. “And they would never meet again,” she snaps after their final missed connection. This is the thrill of Childqueen: Bonet lets her imaginative, polymath inner child run free—but she never loses sight of adult reality.

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