As listeners, we can’t be blamed for wanting things our way. We are given so much autonomy in our listening nowadays, as we are empowered by custom playlists and on-demand streaming to experience music on our own terms. Artists responded accordingly, using a variety of approaches to try and satisfy an audience that has never been more evasive. They load their projects with dozens of songs, favoring quantity over quality in hopes of even one song reaching the heights of virality; artists with little chemistry or commonality will unite in lame attempts toward “crossover” hits; artistic integrity bends to the will of fleeting trends. While none of these approaches are necessarily wrong in a moral or creative sense, it has disrupted the nature in which we talk about music. What is the definition of a hit song? What makes a classic album? Do we have stars in music anymore, and do we even need them?
Amaarae’s second album Fountain Baby, out now, is a one-of-a-kind listen on several fronts. Most obvious is the singularity of the Ghanaian-singer’s talent, one that intersects squarely at her transcendent artistic vision and her inherent knack for entertaining. Across the LP, Amaarae’s voice arrests a listener with Medusa-like seduction, her icy vocals juxtaposed with steamy production. There’s an auditory humidity to each track, and you can feel the sweat dripping from each word Amaarae delivers. In listening to the album, you are also drawn to the fact that this is a capital-A Album, true to the form in every aspect. There are no compromises, no concessions made to cater to the standards of today’s audience. The songs on Fountain Baby bleed the same blood, breathe the same air, and walk in the same faith of their author. After my second listen to the album, I gave up trying to pick a favorite song. On Fountain Baby, there’s plenty of room for each track to exist to its fullest.
The central theme of the album is evident within the first 30 seconds of pressing play, as you are greeted by the dramatics of strings and delicate instrumentation. Fountain Baby revels in divinity, that in which Amaarae possesses and that which has gifted her such an existence. Nowhere is this more evident than the closing track “Come Home to God”; the line is blurred as to which figure she is talking about, whether it be a higher power or Amaarae herself. To be fair, at this point in the album, you begin to wonder if a higher power exists outside of the one you’ve been listening to for the past 35 minutes.
To subtly revisit one of the questions I posed to begin this piece, I don’t know if stars in music is a relevant title anymore. But what I can say is that if the criteria still exists, Amaarae is above whatever the standard is. A star sounds like she does on “Disguise”, effortlessly elusive, too slick to hold in your hands without her slipping through your grasp. A star brings you to your knees before bringing you back to your feet, as she does on “Sex, Violence, Suicide”, a head-bowed confessional turned manic adrenaline rush in the matter of seconds. A star is the one you can’t keep your eyes off of no matter the context, as is the case in the “Wasted Eyes” music video, a violence-tinged romance that could double as a scene from a modern day Kill Bill. The star is Amaarae.