Evolution is a curious and wonderful thing. Upon Hyperdub’s innaugural release, Kode9’s heartstopping ‘Sine of the Dub/Stalker’ back in 2004, no one involved with the label would honestly have anticipated that under a decade later they would release one of the year’s best underground RnB albums from a Canadian female artist, and yet here we are. The musical developments that have taken place between that seminal debut and this new and accomplished LP have rendered this progression all the more natural yet in this writer’s mind, no less remarkable. Plucking Lanza from the musical hinterland of Hamilton, Ontario and providing her with a platform on one of the UK’s most respected electronic labels could well prove to be one of Steve Goodman’s most astute curatorial decisions yet, such is the synthesis between innovation and pop sensibility achieved here.
Lanza’s appearance on Ikonika’s summer synth jam ‘Beach Mode ( Keep It Simple )’ alluded to her qualities as a vocalist, but from ‘Pull My Hair Back”s opening cut ‘Giddy’ it is made clear that she is equipped with more than one well honed skill. In addition to her gorgeous vox, the album is grounded in a strong deployment of analog hardware, notably the PolyMoog synthesizer which Lanza inherited from her late father. This serves to temper the sugary, hooky quality of her vocals with a homespun charm inherent in her choice of equipment, whilst Lanza’s voice conversely provides a sheen that such kit can sometimes lack. With her lightly sung cadences drifting atop bubbling bass tones and carefully applied synthesizer arpeggios, ‘Giddy’ is a strong introduction to what follows.
Lanza and her vocals are obviously the undoubted star of the LP, but credit must also be given to Jeremy Greenspan ( of Junior Boys fame ), with his and Lanza’s production work anchoring this release. Blessed with a subtle touch, Greenspan allows all the elements in the mix to breathe and in doing so draws out their fullest potential whilst avoiding the excesses of overproduction and gratiutious vocal histrionics that have plagued contemporary RnB on occasion. With no song encroaching beyond the 5 minute mark, little is done to sour the good impression made by his and Lanza’s work, with the whole thing adding up to one of the ‘easiest’ ( and we’re not talking ‘easy’ in the Michael Buble sense here ) listening experiences to be enjoyed this year. ‘Kathy Lee’ is a standout moment for both Greenspan and Lanza, with the delightfully sparse beat adding an intimacy to the come hither delivery of the vocal.
Elsewhere on ‘Keep Moving’ the pair combine for a superb slice of disco, as gargling synth bass and tastefully clipped Nile Rodgers esque guitars render Lanza’s breathy vox almost anthemic. These pop inflected sections of the album are mercifully never allowed to descend into full on schmaltz, with the bass crunching far too hard in the aforementioned track’s final third for it to be caught in the mire of current chart dross. Likewise the title track contains gorgeous vocal flights throughout that would be the envy of any RnB diva, but they are atop an arrangement of efficiently cushioned 808’s that allows the song to retain its elegance rather than becoming a wailing mess. Album closer ‘Strange Emotion’ features Lanza sounding her most melancohlic, with the arrangement of whirling arpeggios taking a backseat to the lead vocal and a carefully applied harmony. As the album fades off in a glorious haze not dissimilar to Tangerine Dream’s ‘Risky Business’ OST, you would be hard pressed to pick any obvious faults with it. Some may decry the impropriety of one of electronic music’s most venerable institutions releasing a supple 9 track contemporary RnB album, but the rest of us can simply abandon our pretensions and appreciate one of the most enjoyably dreamy full lengths to come out this year. Here’s hoping there’s much more where this came from.
‘Pull My Hair Back’ is out next Monday September 9th on all formats