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Photo: Luke Gilford / Courtesy of Sacks & Co.

BONZIE’s ‘Reincarnation’ Is a Low-key Pop Pleasure

With a decade of experience under her belt, BONZIE’s Reincarnation is a collection of self-assured, low-key pop songs that encompass a wide stylistic range.

Reincarnation
BONZIE
Beevine
2021-03-16

BONZIE is a Chicago-based singer-songwriter who has been releasing original music since she was in her mid-teens. With a decade of experience under her belt, Reincarnation, her third full-length album, is a collection of self-assured, mostly low-key pop songs that encompass a wide stylistic range. While that amount of range doesn’t always make Reincarnation a cohesive listening experience, the album is certainly never boring.

Reincarnation was preceded by two singles, each released in the back half of 2020, and they both appear here. “Alone” came first, a folky, acoustic guitar-based song with a tender, minor-key melody. The song’s production is fascinating, as more and more electronic elements add to the basic guitar and voice arrangement as the song progresses. Shimmering synth washes, crashing cymbal sounds, and watery organ all add to the atmosphere, and Bonzie even briefly electronically distorts her voice at one point. It’s an interesting take on the quiet, mopey folk ballad, but it’s anchored by a strong folk guitar riff and solid vocal melody.

The more upbeat “Lethal” was next. It’s a mid-tempo indie-pop track with acoustic guitar, bass, and drums, with organ flourishes and a brass section. The song begins with the chorus, “Either / You wanna die, or you don’t wanna die”, but the opening iteration also includes the follow-up “Both are so lethal.” It’s an attention-grabbing start, but the catchy vocals and horn accents are what keep the song’s momentum going.

Reincarnation proper begins with “Caves”, a slow, ominous-sounding track that alternates between strummed and gently picked electric guitar, with omnipresent organ chords in the background. What really sets this song apart are its hip-hop-style drums, though, with the beats giving the song an R&B feel. Bonzie even throws in some brief verses that are basically rapped. On the other end of the style scale is “I Don’t Wanna Be Cut Open”, which merges simple major key acoustic guitar chords with gooey Moog-style sci-fi synths to great effect. The title track “Reincarnation” combines all of this into a song that barely lasts longer than two minutes. Acoustic guitar, hip-hop beats, buzzing bass, and sparkling synths all come together with a great lead vocal. The insistent, catchy refrain, “We will change / I swear we’re gonna change” ties all the elements together effectively.

There are some scattered moments where these elements don’t quite gel. “Our Shadow” is poppy with hints of country, and it has an excellent chorus and two distinct layers of catchy backing vocals. But for some reason, Bonzie and producer Darhyl “DJ” Camper decided to go with blatantly synth-sounding drums here, and it’s to the song’s detriment. Album closer “Come to Me” goes with full electronic accompaniment, from the keyboards to the drums, which at least gives it a consistent sound. But full-on R&B style is not Bonzie’s biggest stylistic strength, which kind of leaves the album ending with a whimper.

Still, there are plenty of other interesting tracks on Reincarnation. “What Are You Digging For” is an acoustic guitar ballad with tight harmonies and a simple refrain (“What are you digging for?”) that Bonzie returns to many times to great effect. “I Will” is a song that begins as a piano ballad but shifts to acoustic guitar and synth chords after the introduction. The lyrics spill out of Bonzie at a rapid clip and then slow way down, speeding up again for the next verse. The piano returns for the bridge but gives way to a building climax as the vocals hit new heights and layered male choral-style harmonies enter, which then stop in favor of a dramatic, string-heavy finish.

“Heavy Rain” also features an exciting arrangement. It’s another song that begins as a languid piano ballad but changes massively partway through. At the two-minute mark, the piano style completely shifts its feel to thick and dramatic, and heavy bowed string basses increase the drama. In the final minute, the song returns to the original feel, but the middle chunk of the song is significantly different from anything else on the album.

This is an album that finds BONZIE trying many things, and most of them work. Her core combination of acoustic guitar and wobbly sci-fi synths is probably her most successful and ear-grabbing style. But her willingness to experiment without straying too far from the pop music template is admirable and fascinating. She also has an ear for big vocal hooks, and it’s interesting that she only goes for those hooks on maybe half of her songs. Many excellent things happen on Reincarnation, and it’s worth a listen for broad-minded pop music fans.

RATING 7 / 10
PopMatters