New Music 03/2021 – Jessie Ware, Rina Sawayama, Kelly Lee Owens

Classy disco; inventive pop hybrid that mixes R&B with metal; electronic soul food.


JESSIE WARE
What’s Your Pleasure?

There must have been something in the air in 2020 – insert your own bad pandemic joke here – because a whole bunch of artists seemed to jump on the disco train, including Jessie Ware. I really enjoy her brand of sophisticated grown-up soul-pop, but she’s never been more purely fun than on this plush, sexy and sleek disco-inspired album. It’s still a very refined and chic sort of dance floor mind you, but no less irresistible for that, with Ware’s breathy flirtatious vocals floating over funky bass lines and slinky synths that make you want to put on a mink coat, grab a cigarette holder and time travel back to the 70s.


RINA SAWAYAMA
Sawayama

This bold, high-energy debut from a Japanese-British singer-songwriter is one of the most delicious pop albums I’ve heard in a while. In a way it’s a gushing love letter to the music of the early 2000s – think Britney and Christina, Destiny’s Child, Timbaland, Evanescence and Korn all thrown in a blender with maybe some late 90s dance music thrown in for good measure. If this sounds like the worst musical cocktail recipe ever (that would probably be my reaction if I’m being honest), the description alone doesn’t do justice to the way Sawayama makes these disparate elements work together. To continue the cocktail comparison, this is the good mix that hits you right in the head in all the right ways.

STFU! is probably the most striking example here, marrying a poptastic melody with full-on nu-metal riffage you could head bang to. It also has my favourite line of the album: Have you ever thought about taping your big mouth shut, sings Sawayama’s honeyed voice, ‘Cause I have, many times. But it’s not all bombast and sugar rush, with personal lyrics about identity and self-discovery, and a heartfelt tribute to the LGBT community on Chosen Family.


KELLY LEE OWENS
Inner Song

Kelly Lee Owens’ debut album was one of the rare instances when an electronic album well and truly connected with me, and her follow-up is pretty much more of the same and just as good. Similar to Caribou, she has an appealing gift for infusing the chilly synths and loops with genuine warmth and humanity. Her music and soft ethereal vocals often make me think of an overcast but warm summer day just before the rain, and have an almost meditative quality, even when backed with energetic dance beats. There are a few surprises: Re-Wild leans heavily into the R&B territory, and Corner of My Sky has a quirky spoken-word guest appearance from John Cale, formerly of The Velvet Underground and a fellow Welshman apparently.

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