Back to the Woods shows that Haze is still a solid rapper.
Somehow Angel Haze is already in the “back to basics” phase of their career even though their last album only came out two years ago. The disastrous Dirty Gold suffered from poor song craft and a tonal inconsistency that is still surprising, and since the record was leaked before Island could give it a proper release, it sold so poorly it looked for a minute like Haze would disappear before getting another shot at studio time. After a hiatus in which they avoided both public scrutiny and Azealia Banks, Haze returns with Back to the Woods, a self-released effort that reminds listeners why they became popular in the first place — and why they may never live up to their true potential.
In contrast to Dirty Gold’s lengthy roster of collaborators, Haze pares this down to one producer, her “Werkin’ Girls” collaborator Tk Kayembe, and they are an excellent match. On “Impossible,” the lead single and the album’s standout track, Kayembe’s snare shots, deep bass and light distortion are a great compliment to the ferocity of Haze’s lyrics and flow. It’s at their most brutal that their lyrics really shine- the way they spit “Fuckboy I’m wild as a buck in the rain/ Wild as a fox who be runnin’ with rabies/ Wild as that pedo that’s scopin’ your block out for months/ Cause he’s plannin’ to eat all your babies” is as tongue-twistingly beautiful as it is bizarre. With the possible exception of “The Wolves,” nothing else on the album comes close to reaching this highlight. Even “Babe Ruthless,” Haze’s favorite track on the record, doesn’t stack up; the song is too slow and too distracted with its own boasts.
For much of the record, Haze abandons hip-hop entirely and sings, and the results are a little dicier than if they’d simply stuck to rapping. Sometimes it feels like the Angel Haze of “Impossible” and “Babe Ruthless” is the featured artist on a generic R&B album. “Dark Places” may be the best example of this, in which the grit of Haze’s lyrics and rapping is undercut by a hook in which Haze tries to do their best Rihanna impression. Even on the best of these pop tracks, the lush and haunting “Moonrise Kingdom,” Haze’s vocals take a backseat to the production, where Kayembe puts his experience remixing Purity Ring to good use.
There’s enough good here to make disappointed fans forget Dirty Gold, the twitter feuds and Haze’s relationship with Alec Baldwin’s daughter, and concentrate on their music. Back to the Woods shows that Haze is still a solid rapper when they want to be, and is still a middle of the road pop singer when the rhymes aren’t there. If Haze refuses to let go of their singing ambitions, they may never transcend Freshman-flop curiosity and make that next transcendent step to superstardom.