Jessy Lanza's bubbly house music dwells in the moment
Jessy Lanza's music doesn't deal with easy emotions. Love bleeds into loneliness, happiness is tinged by heartache and an anxious mind threatening to run off the rails lurks beneath the singer's bubbly, carefree composure. Over the years, the Canadian artist has dramatized the intensity of her inner life through a winning combination of restless drum patterns and gravity defying synths, all the while centering a feather-light voice and impish personality. Love Hallucination, her fourth album, develops rather than departs from a familiar formula: her hooks are bigger and her palette is brighter, but the void is ever-present.
Since Lanza's debut a decade ago, a full range of acts seemed to have approximated the singer's low-key appeal: the fleet-footed Jersey Club of NewJeans, the winsome jungle experiments of PinkPantheress and the quiet verve and passion of Erika de Casier. Even if her likeness to a legion of zoomer artists is coincidental, Lanza has a claim as one of the first and best practitioners of a style of house-pop where weightless atmosphere is shot through with jittery drums and a brazen forthrightness about being treated right in love and life.
A feature of Jessy Lanza's music as of late has been to punctuate her singing with an infectious burst of giggling. As an artist's signature it's kind of perfect — a callback to Janet Jackson, a longtime hero of Lanza's — and a jolt of whimsy to send the arch of her bubblegum techno and light-speed house up and over the top. But Lanza's laughter also serves as a kind of a psych-out, offering up a cheerfulness so blindingly sunny it borders on cute aggression. On "I Hate Myself," she undercuts feelings of self-loathing by mock-coughing every time she repeats the title as though she were stifling a joke. "Marathon" opens with fit of giggles before Lanza swaggers onto the beat and rolls her eyes at some guy trying to impress her before delivering a death blow: "F*** a fake smile and a fake laugh / I don't think you're funny / Sorry."
When she isn't putting guys in their place ("Marathon" and "Don't Cry on My Pillow") or using ribbons of text to flex as a producer ("Drive" and "I Hate Myself"), Lanza's lyrics are usually concerned with hyper-specific moments, where the sheer sudden force of feeling briefly renders the world around her blurry and abstract. Lead single "Don't Leave Me Now" rides clattering footwork drums that mirror an overactive mind while narrating the panic of almost being hit by a car. The details are broadly sketched ("I'm walking real slow / And the cars go away"), but climax in a gasp that briefly knocks the wind out of the singer. "Midnight Ontario" is more mysterious, an emotional confrontation where the steady two-step beat is obscured around the edges by ominous synths that trail off into darkness with the singer's dejected sighs.
A danger of this kind of heightened, play-by-play songwriting is of being trapped too tightly in Lanza's perspective, but it's to her credit that even at her most neurotic she allows the music to speak for itself while remaining dazzlingly open to possibility. This is demonstrated most perfectly on "Limbo," one of her all-time greatest pop songs. Riding a beat that is both muscular and confectionary, Lanza weighs the question of whether to turn in for the evening or to spend the night with a guy. Spelling out the title's uncertainty with a cheerleader's enthusiasm, she offers up one of the greatest luxuries that music affords a listener: The chance to truly dwell in a moment. In the end Lanza triumphs over her nerves and transforms her indecision into daring: "Come on and try me."
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