- Irresistible quiet storm R&B.
- Sensational clicks into place on its second track, "Polite." Everything is warm and sultry, the aural equivalent of candlelight—there's just the right amount of reverb and delay, the synths are crystal clear, the bassline is warm and surprisingly complex, a hook all in itself. Erika de Casier alternately sings and raps over the music, warning a suitor that they "better start being polite" if they want to be with her, before digressing about a dinner date in a detached monotone that sounds a bit like Cassie. It's an impeccable throwback, touching on '00s pop and R&B with a spacious approach that makes it sleek and modern. At the centre of it all is de Casier, whose voice is quiet, almost whisper-like, and yet carries a remarkable power in every extended vowel, sarcastic one-liner and pregnant pause.
de Casier's second album is the kind of record that takes a career to the next level. Her first LP, Essentials, caught the attention of the dance music world, as she worked with producers like DJ Sports and Central. Sensational, released on indie giant 4AD, feels more purposeful and focused. This time, de Casier co-produced the whole thing with Central, and the two create a sophisticated world of sumptuous sounds and lifelike rhythms.
Growing up in small-town Denmark as a mixed-race child, de Casier found solace in MTV, where she would finally see other people who looked like her. Sensational is rooted in these memories and associations, as if someone attempted to recreate a lineage of R&B—from the early '90s through the '00s—from memory alone. The nylon string sounds that open "Make My Day" should give any '90s kid goosebumps, the same nimble, harpsichord-style melodies that underpinned hits by artists like Destiny's Child and TLC, from producers like Darkchild or Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. The whole album sounds as if de Casier crawled into one of those colourful R&B music video sets and set up camp there.
It's not just the production—de Casier's melodies and songwriting hold up to their forbears, too. "Polite" is a maze of hooks, each phrase loaded with sly meaning and sometimes dripping with irony. Like on "Better Than That," she can sound vulnerable one moment and wicked the next. Or she can sound confident, like on "Busy," where she sings about being busy and getting things done over a bobbing UK garage beat. And when she says, "I don't mean to cause any drama / it's just somehow it always gets me" on "Drama," you can hear the weight of guilt and feeling in her voice.
There's also a clear sense of humour to Sensational that only makes it sound more human and appealing. It's pop music with an almost diaristic level of detail and emotion, yet it never takes itself too seriously. Sometimes de Casier gets deeply introspective, other times she's wryly self-aware. On "All You Talk About," she says you can't buy her love, but she readily admits that she loves diamonds anyways. In the second verse she croons, "I'm sorry about it / my room ain't as tidy as I wanted," adding a whisper in the left channel, "I like to keep it really tidy," where she sounds like she's trying to stifle a laugh. Even when she's playing around with typical pop tropes, there's a depth and ingratiating personality to her work.
Part of the hushed, intimate ambiance of Sensational might come down to circumstance. Much of the record was composed and recorded as part of a university program during the pandemic. Instead of sounding like a party, Sensational is pure bedroom pop, with an emphasis on the "bedroom." She's whispering about love instead of shouting it from the rooftops. It's also the album's only drawback—all 13 tracks inhabit the same dimly lit world, so de Casier's trials and tribulations can start to blur together by the time you get to the lovely closer, "Call Me Anything." It's like sitting in a dark bar for too long.
Still, it's hard to see Sensational as anything but a triumph. de Casier emerges fully formed and confident, sounding less like Y2K karaoke and more like she's found her own sound, wrapped up in a mix of nostalgia and private introspection. There's a power in her voice even at its meekest, which makes her kiss-offs sound fierce and her moments of self-doubt believable. It's a work of clever, classy and timeless R&B that builds on some of the most enduring and ubiquitous music of the last 30 years.
03. Make My Day
04. All You Talk About
05. Insult Me
06. No Butterflies, No Nothing
07. Someone To Chill With
08. Acceptance (Intermezzo)
09. Better Than That
13. Call Me Anytime