A Review of Water Made Us

Gabriel Bump
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Five tracks into Jamila Woods’s third studio album, Water Made Us, halfway through “Send a Dove,” the synthetic beat fades and Woods pleads, “Don’t raise your voice at me. / I’ll flinch like it’s a fist. / You’re so quick to rage. / You know I hate to fear you.”

The song reveals all Woods’s talents as a singer, songwriter, and storyteller: profundity through vulnerability, spirituality, bop-ability, a swaying cadence that lifts the listener toward epiphany. There is a haunting emotional buoyancy that only the best artists can transfer to their listeners. The song contains a melding of sender and receiver, making the listener feel the fear. 

Before the beat fades, the album knocks like a friend at your door asking to sit down, reflecting on a recent breakup, wondering if she’s happy; wondering, as in “Bugs,” “Will I ever settle down? Will I turn my life around?” Woods allows herself to succumb to initial love flutters, but in “Tiny Garden” she accepts that this relationship is not “gonna be a big production.” “It’s gonna be a tiny garden, but I’ll feed it every day.”

There are small joys on this album: the smiling sounds of fresh love and the faith that it could maybe work out. There is acceptance in “Practice”—the acknowledgment that some relationships are meant solely to prepare you, train you, and get you ready for the rest of your life. 

Through the first four songs and an interlude, Woods is on our couch, telling us the story over a bottle of wine or whiskey, a joint, pausing occasionally to dance. She is prepared for the breakup. She has accepted it. She understands, in her chest and in her prayers, that this relationship isn’t right. There is a break. There are tarot cards and candelight. 

Then we enter the album’s beautifully and brutally complex “Send a Dove,” where there is confusion, jumbled emotions, a smooth and bopping beat over sweet poetry. 

Loyal fans of Woods will recognize in Water Made Us the hallmarks of her maturing style. This album is covered in spirituality (the flood, the doves). The writing is superb. 

The title was inspired by a Toni Morrison quote about the Mississippi River flooding. 

“In fact,” Ms. Morrison once said at a New York Public Library event, “it is not flooding: it is remembering.” Unlike Woods’s gorgeous song “Sula,” released in 2020 and named after Morrison’s classic novel, on Water Made Us, Woods is not explicitly borrowing subject matter. In this latest venture, she is pulling from her own depths, revealing herself, bare and singular. Jamila: her own inspiration.

The few guest appearances on the album are well balanced. Saba, duendita, and Peter CottonTale inject the right amount of variety while still allowing Woods to maintain a focus on herself. 

The album sustains its brilliance for seventeen introspective tracks. By the middle Woods has finished her wine, whiskey, and weed, and she moves on from the initial story of a short-lived romance. She breaks out her guitar on “Wolfsheep,” gives us dry, folksy, lyrical skepticism, similar to that of boygenius. She wonders, “If you shudder when they mention my name,” if she “can tell between who loves and who’s hunting me.” 

She carries her guitar into the kitchen on “Backburner,” confronts her faults, tells us about “all the lovers that I got stay steaming in the pot.”

At the end Woods puts down the guitar and offers us another dance break, moves around the living room as we watch from the couch, tries to pull us to our feet, keeps moving and doesn’t watch the clock. “I think you really want to dance with me. / How could you really want to dance with me? / Do you really want to dance?” Yes, of course we want to dance. We want you to tell us everything. 

Record label: Jagjaguwar Similar artists: Jazmine Sullivan, boygenius, James Blake, Nai Palm, Frank Ocean, Joy Oladokun Representative lyric: “I tried to feed your hunger, until it swallowed me.” Best track: “Send a Dove” Ideal listening conditions: First week of March, an unseasonably warm day, driving southbound on Lake Shore Drive

Gabriel Bump
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