There’s a lot going on in the cover to Rina Mushonga’s sophomore album, In a Galaxy. But among the mountains rendered in green and turquoise and impossibly crimson moon draped in a rainbow of floral arrangements, one element sticks out: a clenched fist, in brilliant gold. Placed at the center of the artwork, it encapsulates Mushonga’s music very well: beautiful and full of cosmic wonders, but with an unmistakable sense of defiance at the forefront.

In the works for four years, Mushonga’s follow-up to her equally compelling debut, The Wild, The Wilderness, is filled with heart and creative energy. Having equal parts Dutch and Zimbabwean ancestry and having lived in India (albeit until she was two), The Netherlands, Zimbabwe, and (as of now) the Peckham district of London, Mushonga’s take on music is globe-trotting and (as per the title) galaxy-spanning. Though it runs the gamut of Afropop, chamber pop, and synthpop, the intention never feels like subgenres are being ticked off. This is soul music, literally and figuratively.

Though frequently gorgeous, in no small part to Mushonga’s spellbinding and smoky delivery, this is not an album for dinner party background noise. She wrestles with identity, not only with discovering how to be her best self but how to cope with a world of constant suppression. “Stop trying to convince me. You promised you would never come back,” she asserts on ‘For a Fool,’ an unfortunate reminder of how abusers rely on deceit and manipulation to continue with their treacherous ways. Though not explicitly about relationships, the album is full of romantic doubt. Opener ‘Pipe Dreamz’ is like witnessing the point at which love stops being enough to keep a bad thing going. On ‘Good Vacation’, she wryly comments on the fallacy of the quick-fix solution of taking a trip for relationship mending. When she delivers the penultimate cut 'i miss u so much', the feeling has been more than understood.

To describe Mushonga as angry would be technically correct but missing the point. The kind of rage she expresses isn’t the kind that lets you blow off steam upon realizing these issues aren’t as big of a deal as you made them. Some of the best moments on the album occur when she zeroes in on systematic oppression and explicates how no one but her has any right to tell her how to feel. ‘Narcisc0’ is a powerhouse of vocal harmonies that cuts through the bullshit of #NotAllMen approaches to feminism critiques. The arguable highpoint of the album is the most stripped-back song, the piano-and-string-backed ‘Glory_’, a response to the 2017 Charlottesville disaster that feels like it happened either five years ago or five days ago. “Stop changing my story. It’s only mine now,” Mushonga insists. It’s the least she can ask, but she’s not asking.

As powerful as In a Galaxy is, it aspires to greatness more than it actually reaches it. The instrumentation could be scaled back or the mix could be smoothed out a bit for better effect. Though Mushonga has the kind of voice that could make anything sound good, her lyrics dip a bit too much into generalities. When she talks about bathroom graffiti on 'i miss u so much', it feels like a sense of place is finally being developed, but far too late. But it’s far preferable to hear a flawed album from someone who has something to say and doesn’t care who’s ready for it than one by someone who toes the line so much, they’ll never actually get anywhere.