If Jessie Reyez’s Before Love Came to Kill Us was a quarantine essential, it would be a serrated knife used to saw through a loaf of thick-crusted, homemade bread. Released this year on March 27, Reyez’s debut studio album wastes no time ripping into the artist’s grittiest emotions and slicing away with expansive, genre-bending gusto. The versatility of Reyez’s vocals and unapologetically blunt lyricism are present throughout the album, with sounds ranging from the swaggering, synth-infused “Ankles” to the reproachful Spanish ballad “La Memoria”. Though colored by a multitude of musical genres, each song seems to inflect different emotional responses to the messiness of love and the realization of one’s own mortality.
Reyez introduces her work with a distinctive vulgarity, declaring “I should’ve fucked your friends/It would’ve been the best revenge/For the fire that you started”, before continuing to saw away with impassioned remorse at the memory of her ex-lover. Reyez’s raspy declarations are accompanied by the almost ironically soft tones of a piano and string quartet, reflective of how the song’s mood glides through extremes. The singer slips between the fiery indignation of being “sick with feeling like I deserved better” and the quiet jealousy of “if I blow your brains out, I could guarantee that you’ll forget her” – delivering unforgettable lines with no semblance of mercy.
Before Love Came to Kill Us includes several of Reyez’s previous releases – like raw 2017 single “Figures”, and”Imported”, a slinky R&B collaboration with 6LACK. Though the tracks fit in thematically, with “Figures” cracking down on post-breakup hurt and “Imported” commenting on immigration and casual love, something about each seems to disrupt the album’s emotional flow. Perhaps the two singles flavor differently in emotional maturity – while the rest of Before Love Came to Kill Us exudes loud confidence even while tackling great insecurity, “Figures” and “Imported” display vulnerability more blatantly.
One of my favorites from this album is “Ankles”, a gloriously self-assertive production drawing upon both choir and trap sounds that make the listener feel as if they were curling their lip at their own unsavory ex. Reyez chants along with the instrumentals by continuously bearing a disparaging truth about her ex’s future: that regardless of who he finds, “these bitches can’t measure up/To my ankles/Levels? (Nah)”. She does this while bearing the truth of her own realizations – that the ex and their relationship, in all its cheating toxicity, had managed to string her along with guilt – not once, but twice. Reyez finishes her masterful rampage surrounded in ticking drum beats and the last strains of a choir, asserting that like her ex’s future prospects, he is “backwards, 2 feet/Shallow, too real”.