Kacy Hill seems to be the kind of artist who can’t help but turn heads. The story of her path to music is a series of improbabilities, from stumbling into a modeling career at 16 to flirting with a recording career with a handful of well-received but low-profile showings, to signing with Kanye West’s label G.O.O.D. after a stint as a backup dancer on his Yeezus Tour. Something clicked into place, and now, three years later, she has an impressive debut to show for it.
West, now her mentor and the album’s executive producer, advised her to pare down, bring more intimacy to her songwriting, and rather than rely on hook after hook, allow her strong, distinct vocals to carry her songs. The result, Like a Woman (★★★★) is a work of intimate, minimal and deeply felt chamber pop that is a far cry from West’s own work. Her voice, somehow as strong and clear as it is ethereal, is well-suited to the album’s downtempo, almost dreamlike pace.
With lyrics that deal with infatuation, heartache, and loss, Hill touches on some familiar themes, but is preoccupied by pulling them apart and figuring out what they’re supposed to mean to her. Like a Woman is heavy with introspective fascination and curiosity. Hill is as interested in explaining her inner state to herself as she is in expressing it, and the album is a sustained exploration of vulnerability, strength, and the murky space in which the two overlap. She returns frequently to her own sexuality and femininity as well, and is interested in complicating and subverting these two themes as much as she is in claiming ownership of them. Here, the album’s visuals are brought into play to great effect.
Like a Woman pairs Hill’s otherworldly, almost haunting voice with an equally idiosyncratic aesthetic that plays on the album’s themes. From the stunning production of the videos for “Like a Woman” and “Hard to Love,” to the heavy fur shawl draped around her shoulders on the cover, much of the imagery in the videos echoes the sensuality that runs throughout Like a Woman. Through the videos’ disquieting imagery, Hill draws a clear line between taking ownership of her sexuality and being an object of desire. She may be making herself vulnerable while exploring her psyche in full view, but she won’t be pitied or objectified in the process.
These are all messy, complicated thoughts to unpack, but as her musings unfold slowly and methodically over the album’s twelve tracks, it becomes clear Hill is in no hurry to arrive at a conclusion. At the same time, she is uninterested in expressing herself in vague or metaphorical terms, getting straight to her point with blunt matter-of-factness. The frankness of her songwriting allows the lyrics to land squarely and lends a sharper edge to songs that might otherwise get lost in their own lilting softness. The soaring pop anthem “Hard to Love” is by far the highlight, but “Arm’s Length,” a glossy and infectious breakup song, is a close second. Together, these two tracks get the closest to striking the balance between strength and vulnerability, a space she seeks to find herself in throughout.
“Arm’s Length” is followed by “Interlude,” after which we’re back in slow, daydreamy territory on “Clarity,” a consistent enough track, but one that is already predictable and seems to fall short of the ephemeral weirdness promised in the interlude. After that, things pick up enough to keep the latter part of the album interesting, though it loses momentum towards the end. Like a Woman coasts towards its finish on a handful of decent tracks, “Lion” and “Say You’re Wrong” before Hill rolls out on the swelling strings and vocal samples of the anthemic “Am I.”
If raw talent and some high-profile backing were all Kacy Hill had going for her, there would be little to distinguish her in a sea of other artists delivering a soft falsetto over minimal, piano-driven instrumentation. It may not be immediately obvious at first glance, but her distinctness becomes apparent in the blunt lyrics and the fresh eyes she brings to her subject matter. In putting the focus on her voice and her unique insight, Hill doubles down on what are arguably her greatest strengths, and Like a Woman is a strong, consistent album as a result. Still, musically at least, Hill seems to have found a comfort zone that she remains in for much of the album. At this stage, if the point is to show us what she is capable of and convince us to take her seriously, then it succeeds. It’s clear that Hill is a talented artist who deserves our attention, and whatever she brings us next, we can be pretty sure that it will also be worth the wait.
Like a Woman is available now for purchase via Amazon.com and iTunes, and through streaming services.
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