Jamila Woods is a 34-year-old poet and singer from Chicago, but she sounds much younger. There is a freshness to the persona she presents, who has not been jaded by her limited experiences. She directly addresses the topic of love from a personal perspective on her latest album. She’s ambitiously self-reflexive in her search for truth and beauty. You would think she’d know better. Love is magic and mysterious. One can analyze love from a myriad of perspectives and still not be able to understand it. While Woods offers kernels of wisdom, she doesn’t comprehend the phenomenon anymore at the end of the record than she did at the start. Love is love. The rest is art.
Water Made Us is full of creativity. The music takes on many forms, just like the water referred to in the album’s title. The songs are not just liquid, solid, and gas; they are blood, wine, and soul. Big enough to contain oceans of emotions and as small as a teardrop. A scientist would call water a universal solvent because it dilutes everything. But Woods also knows the opposite is true. H20 is also the world’s most important building block.
Woods uses water as a symbol of love. The thematic conceit is that the 17 cuts tell the tale of relationships from their dizzying start until love never really ends; she tells us explicitly in songs such as the humorous “I Miss All My Exes”. The relationship may be over or on hold, but the experience has changed us. It remains part of who we are.
Consider a track such as the lovely “Tiny Garden”. Jamila Woods poetically explains her modest desire to share her life with another. “It’s not gonna be a big production / It’s not butterflies or fireworks,” she croons. Her idea of love is not full of romantic fantasies. “Said it’s gonna be a tiny garden / But I’ll feed it every day,” she continues. This song comes early on Water Made Us and foreshadows the problems that will occur. Anyone who has ever had a garden understands one can’t feed it daily. The plants will no longer be tiny and more than likely die from being overfed. In “Tiny Garden”, Woods hints that she gives away too much of herself. This proves true over the course of the record.
“The good news is that the water runs back,” she sings on the penultimate cut, “Good News”. In other words, the love we give doesn’t subtract from our identity. It restores us even when the individuals involved move in. Wood yearns for long-lasting love and even includes an audio snippet recited by her grandfather about spending his life with just one partner. But the music on Water Made Us is much more complex and beautiful to be reduced to such a simple lesson. Her lyrics are open to multiple interpretations. Her voice is accompanied by musical arrangements that range from the silly to the sublime to spoken word, depending on her message. Jamila Woods has a good sense of humor and engages in wordplay and childlike melodies to affect a mood or make a point.
There was a story in the news not long ago about a woman who died from drinking too much water. It’s essential to stay hydrated, but too much can kill. Woods understands from her personal history that sometimes, one can love and still cause harm. Love is more than just a simple feeling. Her imaginative descriptions offer much to ponder and appreciate. Like a cool drink of water after a heated journey, she finds love the ultimate refresher.