Tuesday, January 12th, 2021

H.E.R. – Damage

A high score this early in the year? It really IS a good day!


Andrew Karpan: While H.E.R. has had an incredibly prolific 2020 — releasing no fewer than eight loosies with no LP in sight — she sings at the speed of oozing molasses, a style that successfully evokes relationships in decline or already gone. “Damage” is the most singularly powerful of these, a woozy slice of neo-neo-soul that takes us to a romance’s fretful beginnings, a moment that Jeff Buckley once called a “last goodbye” and which H.E.R. alights with frosty keyboards and muted horns that come via a sampled Herb Alpert groove. In the dim light of heartbreak to come, she sings about how she will be taken for granted and how the titular damage will be done. She knows it because she will sing about that too. But her verisimilitude is nothing to shrug at either: who else besides her acronymed contemporary SZA is so capable of sounding so much like a real human being?

Thomas Inskeep: I’m sucked in right away by a sample from Herb Alpert’s “Making Love in the Rain,” a forgotten 1987 Quiet Storm classic from; that would be the case almost no matter whose song it was. The fact that we then hear the deep, rich voice of H.E.R. come in — yeah, this is a perfect combination. The vulnerability expressed in a lyric like “careful what you takе for granted/’cause with me know you could do damage” is so deep, so real that I can’t help but fall in love. H.E.R. has been making increasingly great R&B for the past couple of years, but this is a new peak.

Alfred Soto: With a Herb Alpert sample as cornerstone, H.E.R. can’t do wrong, but instead of relying on collective non-memories of “Making Love in the Rain” she plays off Alpert’s trumpet, her melancholy as well-tuned as any instrument.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Listen closely and you’ll hear the unabashed glee of Herb Alpert’s “Making Love in the Rain” underlining every word and breath. Sampled horn and synth filigrees dot “Damage,” acting like the raindrops that Lisa Keith and Janet Jackson sang of on Alpert’s song decades ago. They’re the markings of an exterior world pointing to the hyper-intimacy and nowness of sex. They recall the comforts of quiet storm’s sensuality. They remind us of Jackson’s own words about fucking: “I can’t believe the joy it brings me.” H.E.R. knows the dangers of vulnerability, but underneath her worries is a consoling truth: there’s nothing more beautiful and nourishing than someone accepting “all [your] imperfections.” It’s just that the road there is winding, long, unpredictable, scary.

Katherine St Asaph: Shades of Dawn Richard’s “Frequency,” except lower-key and more polished. Your call as to whether those are improvements.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Every H.E.R. song is largely the same, but this one is a nice one! The saxophones, synths, and Ant Clemons’ backing vocals lend “Damage” a sort of chintzy ’80s R&B feel, which is undercut by the understated lead vocal and the overly long piano outro. It’s a song that isn’t quite sure of what it’s trying to accomplish, but it’s pleasant enough as it wanders.

Harlan Talib Ockey: Yeah, so we’ve completely forgotten what the ’80s were actually like, huh? I wasn’t born yet, but I’m pretty sure there wasn’t this much vulnerability and personal reflection. But that’s vaporwave for you — the official genre of Slow Dancing in an Empty Mall. H.E.R. here proves immensely capable of harnessing the genre’s best qualities, and pulls this far away from rote would-be nostalgia hits through pure sincerity and attention to detail. The production is incredibly nuanced, featuring not only standard vaporwave archetypes like a warped R&B sample (see: Macintosh Plus, “Lisa Frank 420”), but a number of more modern touches, like a trap-esque rattling snare and a quiet set of male ad-libs. The vocal overdubs also alternate between providing lower and upper harmonies, an ingenious decision that gives H.E.R.’s voice greater room to breathe. Her vocal performance is careful and measured almost to the point of frustration, letting only hints of her narrator’s true feelings seep through. In particular, it feels like she’s really holding back in her upper range, often due to the light Auto-Tune. You have to keep reminding yourself, though, that in the space she’s created, those walls aren’t ready to come down yet.

Nortey Dowuona: Shaking, shivering synths drizzle in. Then they are swished down by filters and shrieking siren and hidden by flat drums and low, flattened bass as H.E.R. softly shakes the pot, watching Kendrick Sampson watch her from across the room, the echoes surrounding him and draping a filter over the pot so she can dip in a ladle and present it to his lips, where he sips, a smile forming. Meanwhile a soft sax is squished and drizzled down on them as they kiss, the bass and clinking pianos lope around after they leave, the pianos finally petering out.

Samson Savill de Jong: This song sucks you in from the opening chords and doesn’t let you go again until the piano twinkles right at the end. In-between the music is pitch perfect; tight without being rigid, laid back while still being forceful enough to keep you nodding along to it. H.E.R.’s singing is sultry in all the most positive ways that word can imply, and sounds confident whilst still having just a little hint of vulnerability that is needed to make the song really come together. Hopefully everybody gets the hint and doesn’t damage H.E.R. because she needs to keep making music like this.

Reader average: [5] (5 votes)

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