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23rd May 2016

Review: Jessy Lanza – Oh No

Never one to be ostentatious, Jessy Lanza’s subtle second album flirts with R&B and Chicago house on a brilliant pop album that leans towards the dancefloor

8/10 | Released 13th May on Hyperdub

There must be something in the water over in Canada. No sooner have Ontario’s Junior Boys released Big Black Coat—already one of 2016’s best records, a gorgeous ode to soul and 80s R&B via sleek, chattering synths and Chicago house—Jessy Lanza, also an Ontario native, comes out with the curiously titled Oh No. Lanza’s modus operandi is contorting in vogue outsider pop styles (elements of the kind of chilly synthpop favoured by the alt-R&B crowd, including Empress Of and Nite Jewel) to the point of unfamiliarity until it resembles no one else except herself, last seen on her debut, 2013’s incredible Pull My Hair Back.

Oh No’s predecessor was restrained, minimal and subtly brooding, never reliant on showboating sonic effects. Here, Lanza sounds audibly more confident, her breathy vocals now counterbalanced by effusive yelps, evidenced by her spirited performance on ‘VV Violence’ and ‘Going Somewhere’. You wouldn’t call the production in-your-face necessarily; nevertheless, everything sparkles and glistens increasingly much so than the elegant diffidence of Pull My Hair Back.

In a past life Lanza must’ve surely been an anonymous vocalist on a glut of 80s electro records, jubilant and natural as if she’s singing blithely to herself with earphones in. ‘I Talk BB’ bathes in smooching 80s R&B excesses—pitch-shifted, woozy keyboards and LinnDrum percussion, generous with the reverb—a little too self-referentially, though the tune is nothing less than spectacular and appealingly strange: however indebted the song is to that era of R&B, it is far more capacious and languid than its source material. That strangeness continues on ‘Vivica’, particularly in the way Lanza laces its weird, undulating ghostly synths with snapping trap-friendly beats, low-slung bass and crisp, distorted handclaps; the result is equal parts Mariah Carey, Aaliyah and a rather sluggish, narcotised interpretation of 90s ghetto house.

It’s not the only time Lanza leans towards the sounds of the club for inspiration. Set to a nagging 4/4 thump and decorated with icy analogue synthesisers, the outstanding album centrepiece ‘It Means I Love You’ takes its cues from noises associated with underground dance music: beneath its indisputably fantastic tune are traces of the sorts of sounds usually found on Chicago juke and footwork records; sly hints of the kind of fleet-footed, elasticated house that New York’s 80s voguing dance scene would greatly appreciate. Above it all, Lanza’s vocal capers around the slinky, compelling rhythms. It is perhaps too demure and restrained to be an outright festival-sized banger, although that’s no reason why it shouldn’t be; the introverted production is enticing rather than withdrawn. After all, Lanza isn’t concerned with being ostentatious. Her songs are alluring, meticulous earworms that invite you in, pop music that softly beckons you towards the dancefloor.

She is also discernibly informed by post-disco, brilliantly deconstructing the sparse pop template covered on Madonna’s 1983 self-titled debut: ‘New Ogi’, built upon airy synths and fidgeting arpeggios, the delightfully retro bounce of ‘Never Enough’, and ‘VV Violence’ (a juddering, exhilarating burst of euphoria custom-made for the discotheque) are all distant relatives of that album’s ‘Think Of Me’ or ‘Physical Attraction’. The second half occasionally comes under threat of vanishing into a tasteful vapour, heavy on slow-burning and sensitive electronic pop, but repeat listens betray a generous helping of taut, cunning melodies and absorbing songs. ‘Begins’ continues the lovesick, slow-motion pop of ‘I Talk BB’, although is far superior, allowing the swells of lush electronic backing to overwhelm Lanza’s beguiling, gossamer vocals. Oh No never outstays its welcome, instead working economically across ten immaculate tracks, seemingly an anomaly in 2016 given the bloated runtimes of albums by James Blake, Drake and Kanye West. Whatever the tastemakers think about those albums—and you do hope that at least one of those artists gets their due praise—Oh No is sure to be considered for space in all the annual end-of-year lists.

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