The South African artist's Hyperdub debut shows a daring if uneven sound.
Angel-Ho confronts this experience by rapping and singing for the first time. Where the artist's past work used abstract sound as a conceptual approach to trans identity, the choice to embrace lyricism makes Death Becomes Her a more fun and digestible listen. Angel-Ho is a hard yet nimble rapper who writes rhymes like a provocative fashion queen. There are multiple mentions of Gucci, Chanel and Balenciaga. On "Muse To You," her first line is: "Shut down Fifth Avenue to get a cloak."
But flamboyant images are also cut with reflections on gender identity, which range from painful to celebratory. "Muse" traces Angel-Ho's emotional journey: "No longer beaten and abused / You are the girl who paid her dues / You are the muse." "Like A Girl," contrary to its title, dispels the idea that Angel-Ho should be compared to a woman—she is one. K Rizz's guest verse makes this clear: "They're curious and they stay wondering / But this is who I am … A little bit of mask / A whole lot of feminine." These themes offer something to hold onto throughout the album. The production is a different story.
Death Becomes Her has an overload of musical ideas. Angel-Ho has enlisted contributions from producers such as Asmara, Gaika, Bon, Nunu and Baby Caramel, which might contribute to each track's bold but separated feel. The album passes through dreamy R&B ("Parachute"), a sly club beat ("Drama"), a jazzy rhythm track ("Jacomina") and a skit of blood-curdling noise ("Good Friday Daddy"). This can come off like an artist exploring their limits rather than a fully realized artistic voice.
Then there's the way the album is recorded, which is raw and often disorienting. Take "Live." It starts out strange and gets weirder as it goes, stumbling by with discordant tones, clashing vocal effects and an awkward rhythm. The most eyebrow-raising moment might be when Angel-Ho—whose flat singing is placed jarringly loud in the mix—blurts out a rendition of the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive." Some might consider this construction radical and avant-garde; others will find it amateur and rough. Most of the album's production quality walks this tightrope.
Still, the mysteriousness underlying Death Becomes Her makes it an intriguing listen. Even if there's a lot to be ironed out, Angel-Ho's approach to music has attitude. Perhaps it's better to zoom out and view Death Becomes Her as a whole. The project is rooted in the album, but you get the sense that Angel-Ho has opulent plans for how it will come to life beyond that onstage or in music videos. Taken together, there's vision. All pop stars depend on this.