September 11, 2013

JLPMSon Raw might have a schoolboy crush here.

Pop eats everything, but that means anyone can co-opt pop. Pull My Hair back, the debut album by Hamilton Ontario’s Jessy Lanza could be categorized as 80s revival, alt R&B, Post-Dubstep and half a dozen other subgenres. But at the end of the day it’s a pop record, pure and simple. That it’s being released by London’s Hyperdub Records, a label better known for experimental bass pressure than easy listening might be initially surprising, but let’s not forget that they have a strong track record with this stuff: they did release Darkstar’s one good album, not to mention underrated gems by Cooly G and Scratcha DVA.

Jessy Lanza is a different proposition though: not only is she geographically distant from the label’s London epicenter, she’s also at a cultural remove – no dubstep or grime background here. Nevertheless, she proves to be a perfect fit for Kode9’s expanding empire, delivering one of the sweeter and more seductive records of the year.

While many of her contemporaries practically ear-rape their listeners (hi Abel, hey Miley) by piling on the sleaze, Lanza stands out by pulling things way, way back. Her vocals are delivered in a breathy, seductive coo that recalls Aaliyah at her softest, and her lyrics trade in sexual intimacy rather than pornographic distortions. Playing to these strengths, the album’s highlights land squarely in ballad territory. “5785021” might seem like easy nostalgia for the pre-texting era, but check out that hook: I dare you not to hum that melody for the next three days. First single “Kathy Lee,” which rescues this year’s ubiquitous southern hi-hat rolls from the EDM massive, is just as strong – wrapping the listener in the analog electronic equivalent of a snuggie. As for the title track’s demand to pull her hair back: umm…yes.

The album’s production is handled in collaboration with the Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan and dovetails perfectly with this year’s move towards hardware synths and analog sounds. Timeliness aside, its good stuff – while the arpeggios and beats occasionally lean too heavily on a future-retro aesthetic (think Vangelis), it rarely detracts enough to call for the skip button and the album’s cohesiveness is a welcome respite from contemporary pop’s production by committee. All in all, it’s a personal vision of pop equally appropriate for pre-rave dining or post-rave spooning and Lanza’s ethereal vocals keep us from really zeroing in on her personality. It’s for the best: sometimes a little mystery is a good thing.