Though it arrives ten years into their career, Broken Hearts and Beauty Sleep serves as a great entry point for people looking to meet Mykki Blanco. They sound their most accessible, but their sense of daring remains at the forefront of their artistry. If you missed the lead single “Free Ride”, Mykki Blanco’s Broken Hearts and Beauty Sleep will come as a surprise. Blanco’s always been fearless, but this album emphasizes a new side of it. In the past, their boldness led them to devour raw octopus on darkened street corners and tear apart garbage bags with their bare teeth (witnessed by me).
For Blanco, who was an early collaborator of at-the-time-unknowns Arca and Amnesia Scanner, the musically conventional is a risk of its own. To longtime fans, Broken Hearts could be seen on a surface level as selling out. Furthermore, there’s no guarantee a more “typical” sound would entice new listeners either. Blanco, too, seems aware of this, softly entering the album on a simple refrain: “Trust a little bit,” saying this as much to themselves as they are the listener. The way the lyrics flutter between two notes belies the statement, faith alone not enough to make the leap to a higher note. Said apprehension is overcome a song later, as they launch themselves towards romance to bask in its glow.
Basking, relaxing, and wallowing stand starkly against Blanco’s belligerent, rebellious catalog. The artist clears these emotional states how a runner clears hurdles, overcoming each using lessons they’ve learned and the momentum they’ve built up over the years. “I get to reinvent myself, not out of an inauthentic place, but because I’ve earned it,” Blanco tells MixMag. In the aftermath of a serious relationship and an impressive, distinctive career, forging ahead to newer pastures tracks for them.
The through-line between old and new pastures remains Blanco’s voice, distinguished not only for what it says but how it sounds. Against Big Freedia’s megaphone timbre, Blanco counters with a saucy lilt that’s equally compelling. At its most earnest and emotive, their voice conveys soaring passion and exposes heart-wrenching despair with believable gravitas. The Blood Orange-assisted “It’s Not My Choice” concludes with “please come home”, a pitiful plea that recedes as the track fades. Rarely do Blanco sound so direct and powerless. Yet, when they grow heated, they let loose on their partner for wasting their groceries, “soy milk?!” to be specific. Humorous in theory, the words also lay at odds with Blanco’s bristling reaction. A minor incident becomes a vehicle for every other infraction – every annoyance, every forgotten anniversary, every hair left in the sink. All emotions, from despair to rage, require their catharsis to reach the peace of beauty sleep.
Though still capable of mischief and squeezing itself through distorted vocal effects, Blanco’s voice adopts new roles on Broken Hearts. It moves on to warmer, more inviting chambers, namely crooner and jazz singer. The two personas Blanco can inhabit commendably, albeit with a bit of hesitancy. The musician refers to the project as a mini-album, a sort of testing ground for them to try out their smooth baritone or sense of melody.
FaltyDL’s production, too, tends to skew more melodic than abrasive. While melody can cultivate unease, Broken Hearts‘ contents skew towards sincerity and convention. With its organic compositions and typical instruments, the old-school atmosphere of the album only adds nostalgia, and thereby a bit of comfort to its sound. Lumbering trap beats relinquish some of their menace with the addition of a singular, steady piano thrumming in the background and, elsewhere, from a vocalist like Jamila Woods.
Despite its accessibility, Broken Hearts still delivers on the surprises one expects from a Mykki Blanco record. “Want From Me” enters with lounge singer Blanco followed by Bruno Ribeiro’s full tenor. When Blanco returns, they bring hip-hop percussion with them, later joined by electric guitar riffs. A moody flute worms itself around the chorus throughout all of it, another ingredient in Blanco’s experimental concoctions.
While not their most unique project, Broken Hearts presents a steady, mellowed pathos that’s hard to deny and undeniably genuine. It’s straightforward; a quality earned after years of embracing the harsh avant-garde to build and enthrall a fan base. Blanco sounds happy here and has more than earned the dreamy release of beauty sleep.