HAN by Berhana

Album: HAN

Artist: Berhana

Genre: R&B

Record Label(s): EQT Recordings

Recommended Tracks: Track 5-I Been and Track 10-G2g

Amain Berhane, aka Berhana, is one of the most colorful and exciting voices coming up in the R&B and pop scene (although he objects to the concept of genre). Berhana does not limit his artistic voice just to music, as he initially sought to pursue screenwriting while attending The New School in New York. Berhana’s cinematic vision is obvious when watching his music videos, one of which, Janet, was instrumental in orchestrating Berhana’s meteoric rise after his self-released, self-titled debut EP. However, as Berhana has stated in multiple interviews, he doesn’t just approach the visual content that accompanies his music with the eye of a screenwriter or director, but his music itself is supposed to portray a vivid and coherent picture to the listener. When speaking about his aforementioned 6-track EP, he said “I guess for me, it’s kind of a project about growth. I wanted to make something that almost felt like a documentary.”¹ This is an artistic vision that he definitely carries over onto the project in question, HAN, which is much more streamlined than the vignette style songwriting of his EP. The concept of the album is that the listener is on a plane ride, with 5 different spoken interludes done in the style of an automated pre-flight safety announcement acting as the album’s skeleton, and introducing the theme or themes that will be explored within the next few tracks. Berhana spoke recently in an interview about how this album was supposed to feel like a direct continuation of the narrative he started crafting on his debut EP, and also hinted that his next project will also tie into whatever lore or storyline he may be sculpting. When asked what the concept of this album was, he said “ I always wanted it to be this kind of journey. The very last line in “Grey Luh” [the last song on his EP] is “cop this one way out to Mexico, cause you compress my soul and call it love.” So I knew that I wanted this next thing to feel like a journey and feel like an experience.”² So each song represents a leg of a journey, and much like a hero within a cinematic arc, berhana exhibits change throughout the course of the album. Overall, I’d give this album a 3.5/5. While Berhana delivers a far more polished and musically competent product on HAN, I do think the genuine, unkempt, hazy aesthetic of his debut EP as well as the stickiness of many of the hooks on that project that made Berhana such a refreshing and electric new voice are lost to some of the refinement. However, I also applaud the shift to more production done by Berhana himself, as well as the major innovations Berhana has made to his sound in order to show his multifaceted talent and ability. 

My first standout track is one of the singles, I Been, which features vocals from Korean RnB artist Crush. This is one of the tracks more reminiscent of Berhana’s 2016 sound. The track opens with bright synth over rolling wave sounds, and only gets bopier when the drums and Berhana’s simplistic but catchy verse and chorus join the composition. This song doesn’t shine based off of lyrical density, but the simple and bouncy instrumentation and accompanying beachy embellishments should definitely land this song on your playlist the next time you’re planning to cruise down the PCH (ideally in a 1967 Chevy Bel Air, and even more ideally a baby blue one). 

G2g or got to go is definitely my favorite track on the album. Immediately I was struck by the beginning, which abandons Berhana’s typical lush, smooth, and sunny instrumental palette for driving punchy guitars, and Berhana comes in and lays down a shouty pained verse about trying to escape this failed relationship. It sounds way more reminiscent of something that would’ve come out of the catalogue of someone like Bakar than anything Berhana has done. However, as fun as the energy of the first half of the track is, the true gems of the song lie in some of the later parts. This song perfectly showcases the growth of Berhana’s scope, musicality, and sonic sensibilities. After the first part, we are greeted by wavering and atmospheric vocals repeating the same refrain, trancing the listener into a dreamy lull, and then out of this a drum and bass break springs forth, with some super compelling bass licks, and a generally really fascinating and dense atmosphere about it. This song illustrates Berhana’s insane potential to craft songs driven by storytelling, and eliciting specific images within the mind of the listener. It truly feels like a score to something, and if you like this song I’d definitely check out the music video to see that realized.  Berhana has shown the ability to create intricately crafted yet bare distillations of intimate moments and spaces within his life, and has translated that approach well to a larger more ambitious project. While this project isn’t as undeniably catchy as his debut mixtape, many of the risks he takes in increasing his ambition and adding complexity to his songwriting payoff. On future projects, I’m excited to see how Berhana develops his cinematic approach to songwriting and what perspective he decides to treat listeners to, as well as seeing how he contrasts the plain soulfulness that ignited his career on his first project, and the more developed musical concepts he employs on this album. If you like Berhana, I would go ahead and check out Choker, early Masego (especially ThePink Polo EP), Blood Orange, and Toro y Moi. This album is definitely worth a listen if you enjoy R&B of any sort, especially if you’re looking for something to keep your summer vibes alive even as the calendar rolls further and further away from days of sunny bliss.

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