Some people spend their lives trying to make music happen, while others tend to let the music happen to them. It seems that Monica Blaire exists in the realm of the blessed few that experience the latter – acting as a vessel for the words, melodies and rhythms that seems to flow freely through her like a river. That’s not to say she hasn’t spent countless days and years writing music and continually growing in her craft, but that the way she does it is led by intuition and experience rather than any forced or external motivation. Her latest record, How to Dress Well in the Dark (H2DWITD), (released via Moodymann – founded record label, Mahogani Music) proves to be no different.
“All of the full songs you hear are one takes, three at most. Nothing was written down, they’re all improv,” explains Blaire, who is releasing the project under the moniker mBtheLight. “I’m kinda slowly getting people into the idea that I can be called whatever I wanna be called,” says Blaire. “And that, yeah, Monica Blaire is the foundation, but don’t be surprised if I put out an album and I just called it Blaire or if I put out an album and I don’t wanna be called anything.” This languid approach to her moniker reflects the shapeshifting and transformative themes in H2DWITD.
The record – which has been three years in the making – unfolds like a sonic diary, giving the listener glimpses into the external and internal conflicts that the artist faced over the last few years. Blaire explains that, after moving back to Detroit from Atlanta in 2018, life didn’t exactly go the way that she planned. She had returned to Michigan with the intention of making a record with Andres – aka legendary DJ and producer DJ Dez (of Slum Village) – and acting as a Creative Director for one of her friends’ projects. But, as she recounts, the process was slow moving and she felt like she had things she needed to get off her chest now. So, Dez and Mahogani Music founder and house music legend, Moodymann, gave Blaire the green light to embark on her solo record.
Blaire explains that her writing process – for these songs and most of her songs in the past – is a very quick and spiritual process. “We sat in the studio and Moody just played me the tracks,” Blaire says. “This is how it happened – Moody would play a track and I’d be like, ‘This is dope’ and we would start recording.” She says that she relies on instinct when it comes to writing and doesn’t allow herself to overthink or ruminate on a song. “Whatever the first idea I get is gonna be the one,” Blaire muses. “They normally come fully flushed, like ‘This is the song.’ Maybe not the words, but definitely the melodies and the placement.”
This direct method of writing probably explains the vulnerable and forthright nature of Blaire’s music. H2DWITD pieces together the more produced, fleshed out tracks that Blaire worked on with Andres, Moodymann and Nick Speed, with poignantly fleeting memories, composed solely by Blaire on her iPhone. She says that after sitting with the longer tracks for a while, she started to understand the story she wanted to tell, and wrote the interludes from there. But, although she had an idea of what she wanted to say, Blaire says a lot of the songs on her record told her things that she didn’t know yet herself. “My music tends to be very predictive because of my tap in,” Blaire states. “Sometimes, I’m feeling something and I don’t know why I’m feeling it and I express it through song and later it makes sense.”
Take the album’s lead track, “samesong.” Blaire says she wrote this track on her way home from a tour that was canceled due to COVID, and was surprised by how accurate it was listening back a few years later. “It kinda predicted all the sadness that was coming… and even some of the relationship things… some of it were things I was trying to get closure from, but it also ended up being predictive in some other ways too.”
This foreboding track sets the tone for the rest of the record, leading the listener through the peaks and valleys of Blaire’s self-discovery, acceptance and growth. “This is the darkest I get generally, in terms of what I put out and the things that I do,” observes Blaire. But in that darkness are heaps of hopefulness and clarity. Like in “release,” a cathartic meditation on realizing your needs and letting go of people and things that don’t fulfill them. Blaire begins the song with a reminder of the humanity in all of us – (“Be kind/A heart is still a heart/And a mind is still a mind”) while also maintaining her strength and sending a message to anyone who wants to get close to her (“Fuck with me if you wanna/Know that I’m different, though/I don’t take shit for granted/I dive in deep toes first”). The last minute or so of the song demonstrates Blaire’s unflinching vocal talent in an outpouring of emotional vocal runs that say just as much, if not more, than the words preceding them.
Each song on the record packs in an equal amount of emotion, whether it’s five minutes or thirty seconds. The interludes, especially, encapsulate Blaire’s complex and genuine spirit, along with glimmers of the turmoil that she experienced while making this record. From her car breaking down and computer dying to going through a complicated breakup and delaying plans to move across the country, Blaire has been through a lot the last few years. From that came this unfiltered, vivacious body of work that yields proof of the beauty in chaos. “When that kind of chaos starts happening, I just know the universe is mixing stuff up and it’s about to be a real good time,” says Blaire.
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