[Color Study; 2020]

If Woodson Black (aka Haux) comes off as reserved and standoffish, then it’s deliberate. Having lost two aunts who were very close to him (one to an accidental overdose, the other to lung cancer), Black is understandably ambivalent about letting people in for fear of losing them. His debut album, Violence in a Quiet Mind, is personal therapy, channelling all the internal struggles he has suffered throughout the years. “It’s an album for people who naturally hide their true feelings,” Black explains. It’s no surprise that on the album cover he’s closed off, looking away from the camera with his arms draped across his body in a nervous fashion.

Black has been quietly making a name for himself over the past half-decade or so, releasing multiple EPs and singles across different formats, and garnering attention while producing amicably intimate music that always seemed destined to end up on a ‘Coffee and Chill’ Spotify playlist. His music has nearly always been calm but powerful at the best of times. Violence in a Quiet Mind has a narrower gaze, which is sometimes intense, but adds a much-needed focus to Black’s personal tale; during the most intimate and affecting songs here, it feels like you’re intruding on a private moment.

On “Salt” guitar, piano, and vocal phrases move delicately and carefully as Black finds a quietly anthemic chorus to sum up the album: “You can’t be lost / If you can’t be found / You can get hurt / If you don’t make a sound.” Come the end of the track, he gathers the slogan of his heartache, anxiety, and depression all into one simple line – “I prefer to be alone” – and he sings it with such reserve and dryness that you can’t doubt it for a second.

Violence in a Quiet Mind hits a late emotional peak with “Eight” and “Gone”. On the former he paints a tearful bedside scene of his aunt passing away that still manages to sound hopeful and bright. Rosie Carney’s guest vocals bring a reassuring and heavenly air, like that of guardian angel, or just the reassuring tone of a dying relative who has accepted their fate. When “Gone” comes by after, its lo-fi performance makes it sound like you’re listening to Black work out his grief as he strums his guitar at the end of his bed; it’s intimate enough to almost feel intrusive to listen to. These tracks blossom slowly if the listener is willing to invest close moments in them.

That the emotional detail is painted with deliberation is no doubt thanks to the production of Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman), who helped coax the album into existence after Black shelved the tracks after the initial recording. The producer’s work with Sufjan Stevens and The National comes to mind, what with the acoustic delicacy and the slow burn of tracks like “Accidents” and “Hold On”. Sometimes the tracks repeat the past a little much though, and Black conjures up material that would fit nicely on the likes of his Something To Remember EP. While the tone of “Heavy”, for instance, might fit in with the album, the focus seems to be on the melody as opposed to getting across a message. Likewise “Craving” isn’t the deepest insight, beyond the repeated yearning that Black is “craving for your love”; more attention seems to be put to the atmosphere than the substance. “Of The Age” has a stately almost Sigur Rós-like build of brushed drums that sound like a meadow rustling, which is undeniably pleasing to the ear, but it feels all too familiar, like it’s a track you’ve heard in the background of an indie film years ago.  

Regardless, there’s no denying Black’s sincerity and honesty here. While the occasional phrase or word might be lost in his breathy delivery, the intonation carries the meaning. He repeats phrases, but never into oblivion – and it’s impossible to doubt that he believes each utterance. At the opening track, “Hold On”, Black sings over what sounds like an alarm going off in a dream; there’s reserved urgency and a trembling anger murmuring underneath it all. Come the final track though, the tone has shifted, and is that bit more optimistic, the guitar notes seem to be working upwards and onwards, and sunshine seems to be breaking through the haze; “in time everything will be okay,” he exhales. No doubt working through the pain and trauma on Violence in a Quiet Mind has helped; the album sounds like a successful therapeutic device for Black. That we’re able to listen in feels intrusive at times, but only because of how vulnerable Black himself sounds. It’s the sound of someone closed off for a long time finally starting to open up.

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