Sounding like someone else is by no means the limit to Lenae’s creative yield; she is as self-assured as she is exploratory. Rather than replicating a nostalgia that’s become commonplace, she has earnestly studied these forebears and applied their techniques to her own brand of soft and intense music. “Light Me Up,” the album’s sexy, slow-burning centerpiece, creates a moodboard of R&B references, and digs deep into the excitement of sexual exploration: “Come inside/Show me you’re the leader/Switchin’ sides/Make me a believer,” she begs. Lenae’s weightless falsetto and stimulated writing make it a female contemporary to D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel).”
The way Lenae seems to examine and deliberate her decisions in real time makes her a magnetic narrator. On “M.I.A.,” she takes stock of her life and goes full escapist mode in ways that commit to her shapeshifting tendencies. Taking notes from the Afrobeats artist Amaarae, the song is slick and coolheaded, cheekily rhyming about the freedom to sneak away at a moment’s notice. On “3D,” Lenae reunites with Zero Fatigue’s Monte Booker and Smino for a wobbly groove that puts Lenae in the driver’s seat of a relationship moving too fast. “I’m asking you to keep it light/Things are better movin’ slow,” she cautions, raising her pitch with each word of warning. In her earlier work with Booker and Smino, Lenae sounded like a gorgeous vocalist, but as HYPNOS emphasizes, she can be all of those things and the star of her own story.
While the majority of HYPNOS’ themes are commonplace to early twentysomething experience—heartbreak, growing apart, trifling men, finding your footing—Lenae makes them feel easily digestible and less existential. On “Skin Tight,” she ponders the kinetic energy of a past relationship with grace and respect beyond her years. The scornful acoustic number “Mercury,” with “Deep End” singer Fousheé, initially comes off as a minor song on the album. But Lenae’s airy, level-minded approach is captivating—making this a bold and bittersweet highlight. Even as she whispers “I fucking hate you/Don’t ever speak my name” it never sounds all that painful, more like pity in the face of disgust.
Even when heartache leaves her distraught, Lenae is laser-focused on reaching for spiritual affirmation and aggrandizement. The album ends on the feather touch of heartfelt closer “Wish,” which brings together Lenae’s dizzying expression and limitless execution as a vocalist. “Every night you close your eyes, make a little wish,” Lenae sings, tip-toeing down the words. It could lift you out of the deepest hole. Even as she touches on trends and familiar themes, it’s Lenae’s delivery, confidence, and alluring presence that makes HYPNOS stand apart. As she considers her anxieties, hopes, and doubts, she reveres the musical icons before her in ways that show just how ready she is for her own turn.