ELƎMENT∆L is the soundtrack for the arthouse film you’ve always wanted to write. The 17-track instrumental release compiles a song and visual reference for each level of emotional consciousness, beginning at ‘Shame’ and ending at ‘Enlightenment’. Each track also has an accompanying visual reference of marbled colors and textures to set the tone. In this release, HiFadility showcases a range of genres, grounded in jazz but not shying away from electro, house, or trip hop influences among others. A standout track is ‘Desire’, where an opening polyrhythm gives way to a Caribbean ‘cod reggae’ groove and ends by riffing on rara, a distinctly Haitian genre of festival music.
The album is one of well-executed contradictions. The grooves are reminiscent of braindance auteurs like Aphex Twin or Arca without being too cerebral. Some songs are heavy but never angsty; the tone is gruesome without being cruel. A track with the title ‘Grief’ catches you off guard with a dark dance groove reminiscent of jumbies at Carnival, while ‘Anger’ is fitting of jazz brunch at Darryl’s. The album overall is raw in being an exploration of different states of consciousness and emotional intelligence, but is still thoroughly polished in its sound and concept. ELƎMENT∆L is thus artfully composed — and a bit brave in not fully bending to the norms of production in 2019. (Here’s looking at you, trap.)But even in being art, ELƎMENT∆L is not extravagant, but in fact politically aware.
HiFadility uses samples with surgical precision to accomplish this. ‘Fear’ takes on the burden of articulating the experience of police brutality, sampling news reports on the beating of Rodney King as well as sounds associated with so-called riots — broken glass, chaotic human calls. On ‘Pride’, a sample of Nigerian funk legend Fela Kuti musing on the ills of African democracy introduces a paradoxically funky track, one that could easily accompany any diaspora cookout or dystopian roller rink. James Brown and Martin Luther King Jr. samples also make appearances at various points. We’re fortunate that in this day and age, we can skip over calling an arguably Afrocentric work like Elemental ‘bold’ and land on what it really is and should be: ‘welcome’.
The tracklist veers toward lengthy at one hour and 20 minutes, and admittedly some of the genius moments do get lost in the mix. By the time I reached the seven minute-long ‘Enlightenment’, I was craving an easy fix of dopamine, a ‘drop’ for the ages. I didn’t quite get that, though the final groove of the track is spectacular in its own right. I don’t mean to editorialize when I say that I don’t think that this was HiFadility’s goal in the first place — the artist crafted an experience of elevating one’s consciousness, a process which is not as easy or immediately gratifying as one might want as is a ‘drop’.
Aside from that sidebar, ELƎMENT∆L is begging to be heard — if not for its own artistic value, then as a vehicle to inform even more involved forms of art. I wouldn’t mind a local rapper or R&B songstress hopping onto some of these instrumentals, and would admire the individual pieces even more if used in a multimedia work. In that way, Elemental is both kinetic and potential — a fully realized work by an artist who is capable of an even greater vision.
Visuals by Corey Pane
Hassan Ghanny is a writer and music journalist based in Boston, MA. For more of his work, follow him on Instagram @diaspora.gothic.