Jessy Lanza‘s excellent debut album is another expansive move from the enterprising, fast-evolving Hyperdub label. After releases from the likes of Laurel Halo (USA), Steve ‘Kode9’ Goodman has been looking increasingly further afield to continue his mission of relentless innovation. Jessy Lanza hails from Ontario and has worked here with producer Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys fame. This perhaps explains why, although it shares a detached, minimal and sensual aesthetic with recent Hyperdub releases by the likes of Cooly G and Ikonika, it also sounds somewhat removed from the label’s trademark sound, drawing from remnants of ’80s R&B (Lanza has cited Janet Jackson as a particular influence) and Chicago house as much as from footwork or bass music. Lanza recently guested on Ikonika’s compelling Aerotropolis album, drawing further links between what initially seemed like a London-centric bass music scene and broader global trends.
Greenspan and Lanza rigidly adhere to a less is more approach here, and the results are enticing and seductive. Lanza’s voice is fragile, wispy and full of breath, yet at the same time exudes a confrontational and physical confidence. Greenspan’s accompaniments are often limited to a percussion track and a single set of lingering piano chords, or an even more isolated bass line. What this achieves is to reduce the music to its absolute core essentials. The elements that remain in place are often irresistible – from the nostalgic, syncopated hand claps to the exciting, often near-ecstatic melodies. There is a constant sense of propulsion and energy, even though everything is handled with an enviable lightness of touch.
This music also withstands accusations of a purely retrogressive outlook, simply because there is something singular and fascinating in the combination of Lanza’s near-saccharine vocal tone, her often forthright lyrics and Greenspan’s meticulously constructed skeletal atmospheres. It is hard to think of a debut album in recent years that has sounded both so informed and so thrilling, both graceful and rough edged. The title track is both intensely sexy and tightly controlled, whilst Keep Moving is a simple, direct and powerful call to action. It does what it says on the tin.
Whilst these tracks may be the album’s most memorable and straightforwardly exciting moments, it is perhaps in its more concealed corners that Lanza and Greenspan’s creation displays its true radicalism. The weirdest moment is the austere, mysterious Kathy Lee, a glacial, stringent creation that refuses to build through any kind of predictable crescendo. This is the reflective, nervous flipside to Keep Moving’s casual euphoria. Fuck Diamond has a beguiling frankness (not only in its title), its strict four to the floor groove occasionally being impinged on by syncopated hand-clap sounds and a remarkably warm, supple few chord changes. Eventually, a darker, more hedonistic sounding bass line works its way through and comes to predominate. It is thoroughly immersive, disciplined music.
Whilst it obviously won’t be eligible for the Mercury Music Prize on the basis of nationality, this compelling, rigorous and often beautiful work ought to receive the same level of attention as Jessie Ware’s debut (with which it shares some superficial similarities). Yet beneath the pop sheen, melodic influences and club grooves lies something much stranger and curiously disconnected. These characteristics might see Pull My Hair Back elevated to cult status given the right audience and the power of word-of-mouth.