Jamila Woods, Water Made Us Review
Jamila Woods’ Water Made Us: One Anthology of Promise and Restraint
by Constance Tucker
Jamila Woods’ latest album, Water Made Us, is an anthology of neo-soul, hip-hop, and poetic lyricism, inviting listeners on a labyrinthine journey through the human experience. This seventeen-track album is an aural compendium of human emotion, of struggle, and, ultimately, of transformation. Recorded at the iconic Studio A in Las Vegas and Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, the album showcases Woods’ collaboration with producer Chris McClenney under the auspices of the Indiana-based independent label Jagjaguwar.
Let’s rewind the reel a bit—Jamila Woods is not just a singer-songwriter. A Chicago native deeply rooted in the theatre of life’s complexities, she is also an eminent poet. Her work teeters between the textual and the sonic, constantly pivoting on the axis of her blackness, womanhood, and a profound attachment to the city that raised her. Words like paint on a palette, she is a muralist of the human experience. A Toni Morrison quote inspires the album title and, in turn, becomes a thematic compass: “All water has perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it is.” Well, let’s dive into these waters, shall we?
The album opens with a track called “Bugs.” The opening sounds serve as an enchanting entree to Woods’ lyrical feast. The rhythm navigates the listener through a labyrinthine mix of funk, hip-hop, and pop. Yet, the architecture of this tune demands a closer inspection. Woods, a poet at her core, leans heavily on her lyrical narrative—perhaps a tad too much. Her rhythm is tied to the lyric’s syllables more than the groove per se, but it works. Her vocal embellishments remain slightly too conservative, as if Woods is on the precipice of an emotional plummet but decides to hold back, diminishing its emotional impact. A pinch more variation could elevate the song’s many repeated melody phrases to something transcendental. More variations in vocals and music would give the piece a sense of direction and development. Her spoken-word bridge, though, ignites a spark that her sung verses hesitate to fan.
The effulgent “Tiny Garden” is another reverie, a lucid dream on a vinyl disk. The words, sung with Woods’ crystalline diction, cascade like a gentle stream. We need not wonder or guess—every syllable is an open letter, clear and straightforward. However, here, too, a certain repetitiveness in her vocal lines surfaces like a recurring motif. The guest appearance by duendita blooms like a surprise spring flower, its vibrant colors harmonizing with Woods’ own timbre, offering the much-needed variation in the sonic landscape.
“Practice” has an excellent back-beat rhythmic structure colored by a catchy two-chord harmonic pattern, with Woods’ vocals staying in her lower to mid-range. The verse features lush vocal harmonies and coloring doubling, while the chorus has a lovely melody but repetitive lyrics. Woods’ spoken word is expressive, digging into syllables to lift the meaning or create a groove. Saba’s appearance in the third verse provides a solid variance in sound and flow, with his expression being spot-on for the hip-hop genre. The chorus does have a lovely melody, but the lyrics are the same, “We’re talkin’ bout practice (Ooh-ah), talkin’ about (Ooh-ayy), We’re talkin’ bout practice (Ooh-ah), talkin’ about (Ooh-ayy), We’re talkin’ bout practice (Ooh-ah), talkin’ about (Ooh-ayy), We’re talkin’ bout practice (Ooh-ah), talkin’ about (Ooh-ayy).” The chorus is repetitive both musically and lyrically. A different melody, more complex harmonies, or even different lyrics each time it appears would make the chorus more exciting and engaging. In addition, Woods seldom varies her vocal delivery, which contributes to the song’s repetitive nature.
The sum total of this album—let’s spill that tea, shall we? Water Made Us is a deeply personal exploration, but it cruises rather than soars. Woods’ evident strength in diction and tone becomes somewhat of a double-edged sword. While her enunciation shines, her melodic phrasing could use more experimentation and willingness to step outside her comfort zone, perhaps a daring dive into higher vocal registers and some bluesy embellishments at the end of phrases. As for the instrumental accompaniments, a bit more surprise on the palate could elevate the entire dining experience. Like a poet who uses unexpected metaphors and imagery to create new and exciting perspectives, Woods could benefit from exploring a more comprehensive range of vocal possibilities.
Woods has etched a remarkable sketch with Water Made Us, and now we’re eagerly waiting to see her fill it in with vibrant colors. As she continues to wed her poetry to her melody, one can only wonder what splendid hybrid will emerge next. But as it stands, Water Made Us is a map of promising terrains, a musical atlas that charts Woods’ immense potential. As we journey through this lush landscape, let’s keep our ears open for the nuanced strains of emotional highs and lows—the vocal crescendos and diminuendos that will make Jamila Woods’ future offerings not just listens, but experiences.