Jessy Lanza Oh No

[Hyperdub; 2016]

Styles: Critical Ouroboros, footwork-as-pop, Desire
Others: Banks, Junior Boys, James Blake

Soft beneath the threshold of perceptibility, I am bigger than a body. This is an affirmation I repeat daily until I convince myself with certainty of its truth. My features are dull, of this I am aware; yet still I swell with hope at the thought of my potential, at the limitless possibility in knowing that all these little stupid things like working in a Times Square Applebee’s or walking dogs for three and a half years will finally pay off, finally filing neatly into fodder for the most dazzling bio you’ve ever seen. It’s a liminal casket, a spectral point-of-entry mapped across a three-year-old brand-anxiety matrix, but someone’s gotta do it. The space between Deleuze and Delusion is paper thin, but in its potential, we continue. There is no other way.

In the protracted trajectory of retromania, we’ve long since obliterated binaries between analog and digital, romantic and authentic, hypnagogic and quixotic and self-aggrandizing POWER POWER POWER in pop to the point that any attempt forward is inconsistent with a narrative already stretched past its logical end, eating itself in a “Critical Ouroboros” — but even that is really pretty uninteresting. Is there anything after Carly Rae? Where the pieces fit together all romantic- and indulgent-like without false claims to represent “The Underground” only till it’s in one’s interest to scale? Is there anything more than a mildly-famous creative lower class, committed to a hackneyed ethos of artistic integrity, now firmly subservient to tech in all contemporaneity? Was it ever any different in Dianna Ross’s day? Ruth White’s?

Jessy Lanza’s Oh No is, on the surface, a hybrid of two sounds: the anthemic “Odyssey pop” of Junior Boys’ albums like Big Black Coat and the dizzying frenzy of footwork, aging nicely from Lanza’s earlier You Never Show Your Love EP with TEKLIFE members DJ Spinn and Taso. Although the blend changes slightly from track to track, the template, roughly speaking, is always: Melodic Synthwork and Hyper-Quantized 909 Retrodrum from Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan (who co-produced the release) plus Quick Tempo and Polyrhythms equals Oh No’s entropic “Sound.” Eased together with Lanza’s velvety, effervescent vocals, the tracks bounce from banger to ballad in an viscous spectrum between sounds, snowballing into something big.

From this scaffolding, a new platform of performative pop is born. Lanza’s voice, breathy and evocative, channels pop theatrics of generations of singers, from 80s ballads in Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Eurythmics to 90s R&B from Aaliyah, Jade, and Destiny’s Child. Through moments of production restraint, Lanza hits incredible vocal heights with an undeniable skill for crafting melodies that collapse distinctions between gesture. Blanketed in delays that blur intelligibility, “I Talk BB” hits with thick piano chords and the chorus, “Cuz when you’re face to face, you don’t know what to love.” It’s heavy and heartbreaking, romantic and theatric and ambivalent — a gorgeous, reflective surface that all the best, most universal pop is built on, now draped over stunning production that feels surreal. “Going Somewhere” similarly works icy synths in congruence with coy vocal resound, spinning silky verses over rattling arpeggiation in a wild composite of beloved synthpop and gorgeous, crooning desire. The more “footwork-leaning” “It Means I Love You” flips a driving 160 kick into five minutes of velvety R&B, christened with a rush of pitched samples and searing hi-hats. It’s footwork by some definitions, but more largely, it’s indicative of certain sounds moving toward the pop world. Like DJ Paypal’s Sold Out or Violet Systems’ House of Style EP, it’s the sound of the underground in motion, collapsing in on itself again, a joyous, envious, celebratory collapse all the same.

Wrapped in a overwhelming number of influences, Oh No vaults across an infinity of cultural milieus to find itself. Soft and sensual, alone in a room of millions, Lanza weaves past and present, dance and desire as one in a dizzying, strenuous aesthletic attempt at its future. Planted on the balcony, pushing out from a penthouse view, Oh No stands alone in last gesture. In dance, in heartbreak, in triumph and desire as one, some things never change. I’d say this is one of those things.

Links: Hyperdub

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

Most Read