H.E.R.’s ‘I Used to Know Her’ is triumphant

by Laura Shrago

H.E.R.’s ‘I Used to Know Her’ is triumphant

I Used to Know Her

RCA Records · August 30, 2019

H.E.R.’s ‘I Used to Know Her’ is triumphant

H.E.R.’s full-length “I Used to Know Her” is an emotionally turbulent but triumphant album, displaying the artist’s impressive vocal performance and seamless production. A compilation of I Used to Know Her: The Prelude and I Used to Know Her: Part Two, this album shows 22 year-old Gabriella Wilson’s profound songwriting skills and presents a diverse blend of both sorrowful and sultry tracks.

The album starts off with the cleverly-worded “Lost Souls,” a groovy, spoken-word track reminiscent of ‘90s hip hop, complete with record-scratch sounds and a collaboration with DJ Scratch. It is immediately followed by the slower and much more emotionally charged “Fate”; with solemn piano and building orchestral music throughout the song, she begs “Can you forgive all of my sins? / Have mercy on me.” The tonal juxtaposition of the first two songs preps the listener for the dynamic range of emotions that follows.

Next is the quicker-paced, but instrumentally restrained “Carried Away.” It’s driven by a prominent acoustic guitar and catchy baseline, and topped off with H.E.R.’s easygoing and falsetto-filled melody.

A series of four consecutive songs, midway through the album, detail the arc of a relationship. Starting with the full version of The Prelude’s “Be On My Way,” H.E.R.’s layered harmonies and gentle beat accompany the heartbreaking lyrics, “I’ll be on my way / I’m no good if I stay.” After the realizations expressed in this track, she reconciles the realities of her relationship in the devastatingly beautiful “Can’t Help Me.” This leads into “Something Keeps Pulling Me Back,” a new song for this album exploring the struggles of leaving, before revealing the toxic impact of this person on “Feel A Way.”

“21,” the second new track for this album, lightens the mood with its take on a coming-of-age song in which Wilson reflects on the accomplishments she’s had at her age. This song is followed by “Racks” featuring TBN Cordae, another new and more upbeat track. These two lighter-hearted songs serve as a sort of intermission to the story of her tumultuous relationship.

Next, is the pleasant, but somewhat generic-sounding “Against Me.” It doesn’t hold up compared to the other profound lyrical pieces on the album, but its saving grace is H.E.R.’s spoken part that starts with “To my women with the utmost respect, intellect / We often forget and neglect intuition can see through illusive intent,” analyzing the role of women in relation to men. Despite the less interesting musicality of the track, the prose of the second half of the song sheds light on Wilson’s thought process and introspection, enabling the listener to connect with her music by listening to her thoughts directly.

The highlight of the album, and arguably the best track, is the extended version of Part Two’s “Good to Me,” which is by far the most honest song on the album. After opening with an audio clip of Wilson rehearsing the track in a studio, the song’s lyrics detail the back-and-forth thought patterns of wanting to be with a person, while also needing to be treated with more respect in order to do so.Wilson’s extremely impressive vocals reflect the pleading nature of the lyrics. The chorus has a series of quiet, completely steady held-out notes, showing a balance of restrained volume and tonality that not everyone can achieve. To top it off, the second half of the song features audio of H.E.R.’s rehearsal again, this time hearing her as she attempts to articulate what she wants to convey in this very song. The accompaniment from the song remains throughout this audio, blurring the lines between the post-production track and the behind-the-scenes audio, and further creating a sense of intimacy.

The next two songs seem like the final tracks of the saga of her relationship. “Take You There” and “As I Am” feel like triumphs after the trials of the relationship depicted thus far. In the former, she professes, “With you Heaven is a place on earth / And I will take you there.” She then confidently declares that “You know I’m the best / You’d be a fool not to take me as I am,” her confidence giving the listener a sigh of relief after hearing nearly an hour of Wilson struggling.

The last three songs are separate from the rest of the album: the light-hearted single version of “Hard Place” from The Prelude, a live version of melancholic new track “Uninvited,” and another new track, the solemn and spiritual “Lord is Coming.”

H.E.R.’s effortless voice pulls the listener in easily, but then stuns with her profound lyrics and sorrowful relationship arc. Wilson’s ability to convey such honesty while simultaneously providing a masterfully pieced-together array of songs resulted in a really powerful piece of work, one which will undoubtedly touch its listeners on an emotional, musical, and personal level.