Nick Hakim’s debut album, Green Twins, was a psychedelic R&B trip rendered through a backwards kaleidoscope that then shattered into a million pieces. If that seems confusing and hard to follow, then it’s accurate: Hakim’s musical output has been formidably weird and unclassifiable over the last couple of years. Yet, the beauty stems from the emotional pulse and the heady introspection that the Brooklyn-based producer/singer-songwriter pierces into his work.
Hakim experimented openly on Green Twins, which came out in 2017. The album was loose and elastic, although the songs still retained the shapes and contours of neo-soul and R&B. Hakim’s sophomore effort, WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD, out on Friday via ATO Records, leans further into unconventionality. It’s untethered and disorienting, but heavy with purpose. The music is often restless, practically feverish, as it reflects the uncertainty and anxiety of the era. However, even at its most unsettled, it never loses the tenderness and open-heartedness with which Hakim regards the world around him.
Hakim starts the album with “All These Changes,” a woozy lament of ecological destruction that’s as doomed as a final waltz held deep in a burning forest. The trick of Hakim’s soulful voice is that it’s outfitted for intimate balladry—he often sounds as though he could be singing about pulverizing heartbreaks or dazzling romances. But his writing, cerebral as it is, always requires closer inspection: Here, it’s Mother Nature he’s aching over. “Some have felt it in her eyes/Cities burning, tides that rise/She’s in pain she’s been hurting,” he sings over a slippery arrangement tinged with elements of free jazz. He slides in whistling synths that have a shifting, Rorschach test quality, conjuring living creatures like weeping whales and cooing birds. Hakim’s forecast of the future is bleak, yet he accepts fate with dreamy resignation: “Pretty soon we’ll be drifting in the ocean/And we’ll grow scales so we can breathe.”
Elsewhere, he touches on the systematic ills and broad manipulations that plague society. “They told us it was good for us/ We truly never understood/ Two times a day/ 10 years/ Lab rats in cages they’re feeding us their fear,” he broods on “WTMMG”—a song that interrogates the things we’re forced to accept and swallow as communities. The track starts with percussion that throbs like a weak heartbeat and instrumentals that glitch repeatedly. After thinking about being overmedicated by prescriptions he got as a kid, Hakim paws his way through the rest of the album, trying to find an escape hatch during a harsh and violent time. Relief usually comes through communion with others and creative outpourings. On “Qadir,” he mourns the premature death of his friend Qadir Imhotep West while fretting, “There seems to be a complexity to being kind/to your space to your temple/to your neighbors who’ve seen the changes.” However, he’s quickly backed up by friends and collaborators; artists Oyinda, Maassai, KeiyaA and Pink Siifu join in to reinforce his vocals. “All These Instruments,” one of the album’s most straightforward and disarming moments, sees Hakim folding into his own music for solace. “It’s been so damn hard to find some peace in a world that’s so damn cold and mean,” he declares in an earnest, hushed tone. “I’ll protect you ‘til my last hours/All these instruments hold strange powers.”
Still, WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD is about release, not resolutions. “Let It Out” is an interlude in which Hakim repeats the song’s three-word title, like a mantra. “Drum Thing” becomes the album’s most guttural and desperate show of frustration, with Hakim screaming over a net of reverb and distortion. Hakim, disinterested with letting his feelings congeal into commercial or easy pieces of music, chooses to keep the track red and raw as a blister, and it marks one of the most compelling and frank parts of the record.
There’s a tendency to see art as an opportunity to straighten out chaos and find meaning in confusion. Such art is, without a doubt, invaluable, and it has an illuminating effect, particularly on a generation starved for clarity. Yet we also need music that doesn’t try to articulate disorder and instead captures the visceral feeling of angst and unease. WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD is craggy and unvarnished—far more interested in converting today’s absurd realities into sounds and exploring what it means to trudge through such experiences. On “Bouncing,” the third cut of the album, Hakim paints a universal scene of endurance: “All these lonely strangers/Marching through the snowstorm/Tryna find some peace of mind/We all keep bouncing.” However, while closing the album with “Whoo,” he encloses a quiet reminder to sit in the present and embrace one another. “You were smiling cheek to ear, a distorted mess with love in your heart,” he sings. “I’m so proud that we’re here.”
Stream WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD here: