Jessy Lanza: Oh No

Jessy Lanza is the pride of Hamilton, affectionately known as Steeltown to fellow Ontarions (not to mention the city where Eno and Daniel Lanois first worked together), which makes it all the more interesting that she's part of Hyperdub's roster. Such a state of affairs isn't hard to understand: not only is the label characterized by its broad scope, but Lanza's music possesses an immediacy and infectiousness that makes it transcend borders with ease.

On paper, her follow-up to 2013's Pull My Hair Back promises much. Recorded in her hometown with production partner Jeremy Greenspan (Junior Boys) at the decks, the ten-song set takes Lanza's sound into new areas, foremost among them the experimental pop associated with the influential Yellow Magic Orchestra; on many songs, the influence is audible in a vocal style reminiscent of YMO collaborator Miharu Koshi. Yet while Lanza's attempt to advance her music is laudable, it's not an unqualified success: she doesn't always play to her strengths, and the result is an album that's elevated by great moments but weakened by an occasional misstep.

Oh No starts promisingly enough in “New Ogi” with bright, fizzy synth arpeggios and the warm glow of Lanza's voice, but the song's two-minute running time undercuts the greater impact it could potentially have. The album's first full-fledged song, “VV Violence,” offers a breezy take on effervescent electro-boogie, while “It Means I Love You” catches one's ear for its joyous bounce and forays into electro and footwork.

As the album advances, it becomes clear that its best songs are those that put Lanza's natural vocalizing at the forefront of her minimal, synths-and-drum machine productions; those less successful substitute that vocal style with a comparatively artificial, pitched-up delivery. It's no accident, then, that Oh No's standouts include “I Talk BB,” “Oh No,” “Could Be U,” and “Vivica” for the simple reason that such sultry jams provide a superb showcase for the acrobatic splendour of her considerable vocal gifts. In these cases, the experience of hearing Lanza's breathy murmur and falsetto trills conjoined to the aromatic funk of her synth-heavy songs makes for splendid listening indeed.

April 2016