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Courtesy of Epic Records

September 13, 2016

TEST SPIN: Izzy Bizu — A Moment of Madness

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Once in awhile, an artist appears who produces exactly what you were looking for. The pop music scene has been overly blessed with strong female leads, from any of Ariana Grande’s continuously multiplying tracks (I love her and Nicki Minaj, but “Side to Side” is a bit much for me to get out without wincing a bit — “wrist icicle/dick bicycle?” Really?) to any of the pure gold that Rihanna and Beyoncé rain down on us. I’d been craving someone with a bit of a different sound for a while and around last spring ran into Izzy Bizu’s “White Tiger,” off her 2013 EP Coolbeanz. This track is liquid happiness and believe me, it makes a much better alarm then your AT&T default track “Spring Morning.” With a minimal rhythm of piano and percussion by her side throughout, it feels about as wholesome as watching How to Train your Dragon with your grandma (which is a 10/10 would recommend, by the way). It’s clean in lyrics and in production, it’s light, it’s substantial and it leaves you feeling the same as the track comes to a close.

Bizu has a voice that can range from throaty to lilting, but never with so much depth as Bettye Swann and Ella Fitzgerald, whose influence is obvious in Bizu’s debut album A Moment of Madness. The album, released on the September 2, is brilliant and not too simple. The accompaniment at any given moment echoes the styles of James Brown, the Black Keys and Maroon Five to meet Bizu in a perfectly-balanced middle.
“White Tiger” is a clear stand-out of the album, but Bizu created another layer of balance by placing the other major standout as the penultimate. “Mad Behaviour” sounds like it wants to save your soul.

And she does, kind of, if she gets saved first. “You’re the sweetest soul I’ve ever seen/ every time I scream/ you’re the man I go to” is the moment we witness and angel touching down on earth, as the piano backs away just slightly to let Bizu’s beautiful lift carry you off and up. The only thing that keeps Bizu, or you, grounded in this track is the ethereal chorus and deeply stable accompaniment. The chorus, especially on the lines “Savior rein me in/ One day I will save you” is sung with a quick nod to Adele but Bizu makes it entirely her own because her voice has such a different quality to it, a strange richness that still feels feather-light.

Although these are the stand-out tracks, the entire album creates a picturesque kind of beauty that touches down on various reworkings of jazz, funk, and pop without losing its own sense of identity. “Glorious” and “Hello Crazy” harken to the Black Keys’ 2010 album Brothers, while “I Know” could be nestled in with James Brown’s “The Boss” without seeming displaced. Trails of Amy Winehouse’s ’68 version of “Valerie” sink into the tracks “Skinny” with uplifting lines like “Skinny skinny skinny/ get down on the floor/ don’t be shy you blow my mind,” and “Gorgeous.” A Moment of Madness touches on each of these styles and then lights off, so the album never feels like it’s copying anything, but rather paying homage.

Bizu’s tracks, now vibrant, now effervescent, create a dynamic album without ever really changing the kind of music she’s producing. The only real stretch in her sound is her collaboration with HONNE, the penultimate track in the lengthy (and a good use of your time), 17-track deluxe edition. It’s simultaneously in and out of place with the rest of the tracks, having a much more experimental and electronic-soul saturation than its neighbors. It manages to hang on to Bizu’s voice just enough to stay in line with the rest of the tracks, but it’s also a worthwhile path to stray down.

Bizu has so many conversations with herself within this album. “Diamond” gives a response to her EP’s track “Fool’s Gold” as she asserts “You’re the type that never rusts/ You’re more than just gold dust/ You’re a diamond in the rough.” She analyzes real or fictional people who matter to her in almost every song. In “Gorgeous,” she pleads to her one-person audience, “everyone around you just adores ya/ you don’t like what you see in the mirror/ at least if you go take me with you.” To the backing of the strangely fairy-like chorus (in line with the lyrics in the first verse) and too-clipped keyboard of “Lost Paradise,” Bizu mourns several kinds of loss with her father, crying out first “I know it’s hard to find piece of mind/you can’t ride two horses at the same time” before dissolving into “My daddy was hanging on zip wire dreams/I begged him to wake but all he wanted was peace/and I don’t blame him for a second he had four ribs broken/half a tongue left and no kidney to show.”

“Circles” in turn comes back to echo “Lost Paradise,” pushing again imagery of a crumbling self and will to live, “Jumping and I’m cutting at the rope/don’t try and stop me I am rotten to the bone.” She spaces these two tracks with others, like “Glorious,” in which the upbeat music betrays what’s happening in the lyrics; Bizu is acknowledging that someone she loves is moving away from her and towards someone else. The track evolves from her singing “It’s obvious/ it’s glorious,” to a rather intentional “she’s glorious,” as she narrates “you’re treading water/ in my eyes” which I will hold is a perfect way to describe crying in front of someone who matters to you.
And so, the third and trickiest kind of balance that A Moment of Madness satisfies is a balance of emotion, which considering the subject matter cradled in the album is no small feat. In spite of the dark themes and at times the darker accompaniment, you still finish the album feeling cleansed.

The saddest track, and one which is only on the deluxe edition but certainly bears mentioning, is the ultimate track, “Trees & Fire,” which is undoubtedly the only truly depressing track across all 17 chosen to make the list. Her voice is mostly accompanied by a piano which trails behind her like a lost puppy. This is a song of desperation, a desperation that drenches “I am nothing in between” and “If I talked to me/ do I need help?” Although other tracks on the album cover vastly difficult topics, this is its own beast as the artist sinks into self-doubt of her own validity as a person. It moves beyond the self-deprecation and inwardly-focused insults of earlier, but is a full-on admittance of worry, worry for her own self. And although it’s quite heavy (and a bit predictable) to sit at the end of the album, it also provides an emotional anchoring that keeps the rest of it from being too nonchalant.

A Moment of Madness, in its totality, is a work of art. Put it on, turn it up, and give yourself over to it—you’ll be better for it if you do. I would have been happy to keep waking up to “White Tiger” in the mornings, but A Moment of Madness brings all sorts of new moments into the mix. Bizu is certainly an artist to watch out for moving forward.

Jessie Weber is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at jwl372@cornell.edu. 

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