Sometimes, when a person first starts living in their true identity, a modest weight begins to lift off their shoulders. For a few years afterward, they might still experience an ineffable but persistent mental pressure. Over time, though, that burden often fades, leaving behind a more complete, balanced person, one newly capable of experiencing all-encompassing joy. This transition from hiding one’s true self to fully showing it and then, after years of tumult, being—and loving—that self is what distinguishes Water, the Berlin-via-Houston producer J’Kerian Morgan’s lush, immersive sophomore album as Lotic, from her 2018 LP Power. On that album, she footed herself in unfailingly bleak tones on battering, largely instrumental songs about asserting her identity against the myriad forces attempting to quash it. For Water, she shifts to a fluid, gossamer sound and puts her unhurried falsetto at center stage. She sings about emotions that might seem ordinary to some but feel extraordinary to her—lust, longing, romantic disconnection—now that she’s finally properly experiencing them. She sounds newly at ease, and her self-assurance is thrilling to witness.
As its title suggests, Water—an album where the intimacy of slow-paced R&B unites with her past in experimental, abstract club music—gushes and flows rather than striking with sharp edges. The high-pitched synth squeals and stuttering undercurrent of centerpiece “Always You” are simultaneously propulsive and intimate—part cool jet stream, part warm rush. Beaming, jittery synths introduce “A Plea,” which grows from its enticingly pared-back initial arrangement into harps and rushing percussion. Both these elements could dominate or overwhelm other songs, but Morgan is careful to aerate her sound design. Her unobtrusive, transfixing touch evokes Vespertine, the microbeat-filled, seminal 2001 album from Björk, who Morgan counts as a collaborator and fan. The delicate flutes of “Come Unto Me” could likewise find a home on Björk’s most recent album, 2017’s Utopia.
“Come Unto Me” was the first song Morgan completed for Water; she has described it as “the moment i knew i was onto something.” It’s arguably the album’s apotheosis: Its flutes and tin-can percussion softly, playfully ricochet off one another, and the velvet sound amplifies Morgan’s breathy, high-pitched singing about entangling herself with another person. “Stroking your nape/Breathing you in/Making sure you'll/Never want to leave me,” she exhales as the music’s intertwined calm and clamor reflect the ins and outs of obsession. She often couples intense romantic and sexual feelings with sounds at once cooling and chaotic. As she reaches her highest register during the chorus of “Emergency,” flailing 16th notes and alternatingly thwacked and muffled percussion ensure that her cries of “Please fuck me!” sound gleeful rather than desperate. “It’s so hard to be apart,” she sighs on “Apart,” and the cricket-like synth chirps, astral arpeggios, and lethargic tempo transform this simple refrain into a deeply vulnerable confession.
“Apart” kicks off Water’s second half, which comprises slower, less pop-oriented experiments. These more intimate tracks find Morgan reckoning with the unwelcome aspects of romance: feeling unseen, loving someone more than they love her. The songs’ minimal palette aptly suits this introspection, facilitating a placating slow burn after the vivid, overflowing lust and passion of the album’s first half. The back half is the water that tames the front’s fire, and together, Morgan’s warm embraces and cooler thoughts attest to her full emotional breadth.
Morgan’s knack for sequencing is especially apparent in closing Water with “Diamond.” “Why do I allow all of this pressure?” she asks herself atop fairy-like harps and synths that sound both grumbling and victorious. Later, in an unusually low, placid tone, she murmurs, “This entanglement has expired/But I hope you know that this I admired,” during a passing moment of tranquility. Then the harps and synths return, and the track’s key question dissolves into a series of oohs and aahs. It sounds triumphant: After a transition from overwhelming feelings to less sanguine ones, Morgan emerges unburdened. In this state, she’s entirely ready to love and be loved. She’s fully herself.
Buy: Rough Trade
Catch up every Saturday with 10 of our best-reviewed albums of the week. Sign up for the 10 to Hear newsletter here.