Berhana is blossoming into his own. In 2016, the Atlanta native released his self-titled EP, featuring his breakout hit “Janet.” Since then, the R&B artist has been measured about releasing new music. Dropping no music in 2017 and only two songs in 2018. On his newest album “HAN,” Berhana explores Japanese funk, and creates a dreamy and groovy headspace for us to fly through. In between his full-length tracks are small interludes in the form of in-flight announcements, driving the metaphor of a 33-minute “airplane ride” through Berhana’s latest project.
“HAN” is an album full of love and longing. On “HAN,” Berhana reminisces about his previous romances, from loving someone while drunk in Tokyo to living in the moment with someone and driving in the California sun. Regardless of whether you’re dating or single, “HAN” reminds us that sometimes those little moments with the people you love can be the healthiest for your heart and soul. Here are five tracks we thought were an essential and beautiful part of the in-flight entertainment from “HAN.”
“HAN” starts with a boarding announcement, welcoming listeners to the flight, while seamlessly flowing into the album’s first full-length song “Golden.” The song has a big and slow, new-wave funk sound. Although the song is short and sweet, Berhana’s lyrics are nostalgic and poetic as he recalls “love in the summer” and shouts “we golden!” To him, golden might mean the increasingly hot California sunshine, or a timeless sense of youth, the good old days. He sings for us about going to the movies and living the summer life. Berhana gives us small tastes of things we get in full in the rest of the album. He explores different voice textures, sometimes deep and raspy, sometimes light and smooth. He brings us a heavy synth bass but also some filtered acoustic guitar, all backed by a constant soft pad in the background. “Golden” is a great opening track, and sets a great tone for the rest of “HAN.” Kick back and listen to it in the summer sun.
It’s easy to get lost in “Drnuk,” Berhana’s poetic lyrics are about being “drunk in Tokyo” coupled with scattered but skillfully placed guitar licks. A groovy bassline lives underneath Berhana’s distinct vocals and a solid beat. Gentle synths and a healthy amount of reverb in the chorus and bridge pull you into Berhana’s world. In Tokyo, Berhana sings to a nameless lover he met at one of his shows. He doesn’t “know the language, nor how I know your name” and tries to remember where he met this mystery girl. The lyrics and vibe of the song conjure up images of neon-lit streets in Tokyo and are among several homages to Berhana’s love of Japanese culture that appear throughout the album. It sends the message that sometimes we just have to let loose in life and have a good time with someone, even if we can’t remember their name. “Drnuk” fades out gently at the end and leaves you at ease, ready to explore the rest of the album.
“Health Food” appears a little more than halfway through “HAN” and the track is true Berhana funk. He alternates between smooth, deep, natural sounds and intentionally auto-tuned synthetic, almost robotic vocals. You can practically picture him swaying soulfully as he sings. In between verses, he brings in a small instrumental break of funky electronic piano and synths that flow nicely into his second verse. A lot of the time, love is the healthiest thing for us, something we need in our lives. Berhana compares love to healthy food, he wants it all to himself and repeats that he needs it. “Health Food” is one of the album’s love stories, a little window into the loving and healthy relationship that many of us want. The song is carefully crafted and mixed and is a lush auditory forest of sounds, and, just like love, is healthy for the mind and the soul.
Life can get hectic sometimes, and we all need someone to talk to about it. For Berhana that is the subject of his song “California.” He tells us: “I’ve been running / Got so many stories to tell / Ain’t no one to tell ‘em too / So called to let you know I’m comin’.” He sings these words in a slow, gentle and soulful intro until after the first minute. The guitar then slowly seeps into the background, and the song hits a solid groove. Gently carrying you into the slow steady beat and open synths, which evoke feelings of the warm California sun and driving with the windows down. Berhana seems share this visual too, singing “Ridin’ round this Benz in California / Yeah, the star above the clouds to light my way / She said, ‘Oh boy, you think too much about tomorrow’ / But it was you, that made me ok” With these words Berhana also reminds us that here in California, it’s all about today. We don’t always know what the future holds, and we can’t do anything to change the past, so all we can do is drive forward on those long California roads.
“G2g” is maybe the song that stands out the most from the chill, soul/funk vibe. Right off the bat, the song has an unapologetic, gritty texture and a distinct rock sound. With its driving guitar and processed vocals, “G2g” sounds similar to other contemporary indie or alt-rock artists like Cage the Elephant or NVDES. In the song, Berhana sings that he wants to get out of the South, presumably his home in Atlanta. Growing up, many of us experienced the angst of wanting to escape our “small town” homes. Just like us, Berhana needs something different in his life and went out to find it. The second half of “G2g” is almost jazz-like with Berhanas vocals echoing over a fast-paced bass solo. Out of all the tracks on “HAN,” “G2g” takes the listener on the biggest journey auditorily, coming out blazing, pulling back, and building back up into a rapid groove. Almost like airplane turbulence. We all gotta go eventually, and “G2g” is a good song to take with us.