- There's a weight of expectation around Jessy Lanza's second album, Oh No. In 2013, her debut record, Pull My Hair Back, emerged with a unique, fully formed pop sound. It combined the rave memories of her youth, the accomplished chords and compositional dexterity picked up in her jazz studies, and whip-smart production bolstered by co-producer Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys. Lanza's now the closest thing Hyperdub has to a pop star, having lent her vocals to Caribou and Morgan Geist, worked with DJ Spinn and Taso and became an accomplished live performer through steady touring. On Oh No, she's settled into a groove, more comfortable with her voice and fully aware of the pacing required in an electronic pop album. She sounds much more assured, but as a result the album lacks the faltering charm of its predecessor. It's not a huge step forwards or backwards, and will certainly appease her fans.
It's clear Lanza has an omnivorous approach to influences, sifting through Detroit house, freestyle and Shangaan electro while continuing to experiment with her beloved R&B. Lanza and Greenspan work together closely on her music, and Junior Boys' obsession with yacht rock session drummer Jeff Porcaro, as heard on Begone Dull Care, shines through here. Much of Oh No gently evokes the soft-rock sound—smooth-as-silk '80s productions from studio whizzes like Godley & Creme. "I Talk BB" is replete with the gated snares that defined that period, its minimal piano chords and wavering pads evoking a luxe, Reagan-era loneliness. Album highlight "Going Somewhere" tweaks this formula, adding bumpy modern drum programming as Lanza makes a convincing turn as an '80s diva. She squeals as the song spins out, leaving us wanting more.
That tune is great, in part because its huge hook contains a discernable sentiment, detailing the story of an insecure lover who hopes her partner is as smitten as she is. Elsewhere, however, the lyrics aren't nearly as fleshed out. "I Talk BB" feels all too appropriate as one of Oh No's song titles: there are a thousand breathy "babys" and "yeahs" over the course of ten tracks. Lanza seems most interested in her production, often using vocals as a simple way of conveying attitude or feeling. As a result, the kind of pathos heard on tracks like Pull My Hair Back's "Strange Emotion" is absent.
At times, it feels like Lanza's an amazing dance producer forced to kowtow to vocal pop's limitations. "VV Violence" ends with a charging, acidic moment after the vocals cut out. She looks back to the Balihu and Environ catalogs for disco-house bangers like "Never Enough." On lead single "It Means I Love You," an obvious high point, she limits the lyrics to a few throwaway lines and lands on an addictive reading of the Shangaan sound.
Oh No is an inventive and enjoyable pop record that only falls short of Lanza's own standards. On Pull My Hair Back, she was a would-be R&B star hesitantly stepping into the spotlight. Now, as a more established pop figure, she flexes her production skills and fails to reach the emotional heights she previously scaled. It's a testament to the singularity of Lanza's sound that her debut album set such a high watermark. Lanza and Greenspan are record and synthesizer nerds talented enough to use history and hardware to carve out their lane. Hopefully, Oh No is a very good record leading to several great ones.
01. New Ogi
02. VV Violence
03. Never Enough
04. I Talk BB
05. Going Somewhere
06. It Means I Love You
08. Oh No
10. Could Be U