Written by Barlovv
Backwash – HIS HAPPINESS SHALL COME FIRST EVEN THOUGH WE ARE SUFFERING
> Montreal, CA
> Released October 31
> Ugly Hag/self-release
Let it be known if there’s ever death in these poems
I’m settling the onus on with perfect performance
Settle the score like Lecter & co.
And it’s like leather to Jaw with metal & saws
My first exposure to Backxwash was with 2021’s absolutely fucking transcendent I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES, which I am only learning today is actually the middle of a trilogy that HIS HAPPINESS is bringing to a close; because clearly I am a filthy casual who has no business reviewing music. Alright, that aside, HIS HAPPINESS is the second album this year I have felt the need to start reviewing while I was listening to the album, the first being Chat Pile’s God’s Country, so that might help set the expectation for what I think of this album well in advance.
This. Thing. Goes. Fucking. Hard. Seamlessly combining elements of hip-hop with pitch-black metal and the grit of industrial, with skill shown by Backxwash in both rapping and ferocious screaming. There is an unending sense of pain and anger coming through here; even in song with sweeping operatic samples and organ, the fury puts this up with anyone else in either genre as quality goes. What’s more, is that it does all this while being extremely infectious, the beats are hard but they are absolutely earworms that will have you bobbing your head even if you don’t notice right away. It’s a wild dichotomy and many have fallen trying to walk that line before.
Per the artist’s statement about this trilogy of albums, each entry takes the listener farther and farther back in time, as Backxwash uses each album to revisit anger and despair she wasn’t allowed to feel at the time. Each entry is autobiographical and therapeutic but never inaccessibly so. That rage and despair and giving in to those things is something that many of us are able to relate to on some level. This entry goes back to her youth and the time before she even existed as her true self and the ways in which she is able to process the foundation that it lays in her life now.
“My momma said she’d kill me if I call CPS, then turn around and be confused why I ain’t bring home no guests” begins “ZIGOLO“, the fifth track on the album, and it kind of beautifully sums up the tone and the seriousness of the issues that we’re looking at with HIS HAPPINESS. A portrait of trauma and cycles of abuse and violence from childhood, looked at in retrospect from an adult who sees better the context and situations that they were involved in. So many things from childhood can feel one way, and as you get older you start to realize that, actually, they were pretty fucked up and actually you were treated poorly. We don’t always have the vocabulary to describe childhood experiences and so that trauma sits inside of us for years and manifests in a number of different ways as we age. This album feels like a pure expression of that.
It’s also so frightening, for me, to assign meaning and message from an album this fucking personal. I worry that I am overlaying my own experiences and my own trauma or misinterpreting something fundamental. However, I think that’s simply the risk you take when you look at something as intimate and vulnerable this, so I’ll just have to suck it up and move forward. Backxwash is bringing a number of different intersectional facets to her experience here, as a black trans woman, born in Zambia and now based in Quebec—one of Canada’s more…complex provinces when it comes to folks who aren’t white and French—and there is a huge amount of context here that likely goes over my head. That said, the rage and the fear and the despair is universal even if the underlying causes are less so.
Context, messaging, themes, etc. etc. etc. aside—HIS HAPPINESS goes harder and has more honesty and vulnerability than anything that I’ve heard this year by a fucking mile. Backxwash towers above just about everyone in hip-hop that’s had a release this year without a doubt, and is shoulder to shoulder with some of the best metal releases in a while. I can’t say enough about how much I love this album.
THE BOTTOM LINE
HIS HAPPINESS SHALL COME FIRST EVEN THOUGH WE ARE SUFFERING is one of the best pieces of music released this year. Regardless of genre or preference or opinion, this is an objectively terrific album. There is no excuse not to go and listen to this album 1000 times. It’s raw, angry, and just so absolutely fucking terrific from end to end. Go listen to this, go buy the whole goddamn trilogy, and keep your eye on every single damn thing that Backxwash releases. Just do it. I will take no more questions at this time.