REVIEW: Mal Devisa - Kiid

Laura Kerry

In the spirit of Mal Devisa, who doesn’t mince words, I’ll get right to it: this is a stunning album. The debut full-length of the artist born Deja Carr, Kiid follows two EPs and a collection of performances—around Northampton, MA, where she’s based, on Boston’s NPR station, in a TEDx conference—that have built up an impressive reputation for the young musician. Known for accompanying herself with unconventional bass lines, adding elements of improvisation, and wielding a powerful voice, she has already proven herself a talented singer and creative songwriter.

Now, Kiid is a confident proclamation of Mal Devisa’s depth and scope as an artist. Drawing from rock, blues, spoken word, hip-hop, and jazz, among other sources, she has created a sound that is very much her own. But part of what makes Kiid so thrilling is that that sound isn’t just one thing. In ten songs, Mal Devisa swings from genre to genre, tone to tone, and theme to theme in extremes that on lesser albums, played with a less adept hand, would feel unwieldy. Mal Devisa, though, folds them seamlessly into her craft.

Most of Kiid dwells on the softer side, beginning with the opener "Fire,” a gentle and reflective yet smoldering rock song that asks, “Does it kill you to know that we’re all dying?” and ends with a round of distorted guitar to underline the existential dread of the question. Staying quiet all the way through is “Sea of limbs,” which encourages the addressee with the sweetly moving refrain, “Keep your eyes open / I promise you are solid gold,” and the smoky, keyboard-backed “Forget that I.” whose vocals get so soft that they crack into a whisper at one point and claim, “I’m a lovesick woman, I have no blues,” all while intoning a bit like Nina Simone. “Everybody Knows,” “Live Again,” and “Sea of limbs intro” also employ the same sparse, lo-fi composition of bass and vocals that lends them an ageless feel.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, strewn throughout the soulful, stark tracks, are four tunes that exhibit a more brazen kind of confidence. On the soul-infused rock shuffle of “Daisy,” that confidence is playful; over distorted guitar and a steady bass drumbeat, Mal Devisa sings, “With my head on good you’d just want to spend your money on me.” On “In My Neighborhood,” a song with dark, pulsing layers of percussion, it is angrier, expressed in chanted vocals that begin almost as spoken word and end in a Santigold-like yelp. In “FAT,” a brief rap interlude, it is defiant and challenging, manifesting in the form of the repeated line that ends, “What, you mad?” And in the last song, “Dominatrix,” it is pure swagger. “Messing around I wrote a masterpiece... / Now I go by Mal Devisa / Avid rapper she’s a preacher,” she boasts, shifting into a third-person perspective.

But this swagger isn’t as far from the start of the album as it initially appears. Engaging with the identity politics at the intersection of race, class, and gender (“I’m better off being a queen in size 16 jeans…or the only black woman slaying science on TV”), “Dominatrix” arises from the same existential considerations as “Fire,” the same rage as “In My Neighborhood,” and the same love as “Sea of limbs," albeit in a different form. It is one more proclamation—in what we hope will be a long series—of who Mal Devisa is as an artist. “I will never change Devisa and you labels better face it.”