To say that Jessy Lanza’s 2013 debut album was a surprise would be an understatement. The mere fact of a Canadian electro-pop project seeing release on Hyperdub, the UK’s home of bleeding-edge bass music, was already an angular pill. More unexpected still was the album’s flat-out brilliance, an assault of sprightly, inventive pop cuts that appeared to have sprung out fully formed. The spare soundscapes of ‘Pull My Hair Back’ proved an intoxicating springboard for Lanza’s giddy vocal performances, which could swing from an acrobatic leap to a seductive coo in the space of a single snare.
A debut as brilliantly formed as Lanza’s always poses questions for its follow-up. Hone in or stretch out? Three years later Lanza has an impressively versatile range of collaborations under her belt: Caribou, Teklife, Morgan Geist. These projects may gesture at a more diverse sound for her second album, but Oh No is more of a gentle sidestep – agile, high quality pop tunes that have lost their element of surprise.
The sonic makeup of these songs, which are again co-produced with Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan, remain a delight. The arrangements are sparse, dominated by intricate patterns of bone-dry drum hits, its melodies infused with electro’s icy funk. Lanza’s voice is as soft and sensual as ever, continuing to occupy the higher registers and nimbly darting around the rhythms with a natural sense of drama.
The album is peppered with catchy pop moments, demonstrating Lanza’s ability to craft great hooks from unusual sources. An endlessly filtering snare patter grounds VV Violence, swift bassline mutations underscoring a breathy vocal performance. Lead single It Means I Love You is superb, its bouncing tabla adding a sense of urgency compounded by ultra-clipped vocal samples and epileptic snares. Above the manic arrangement Lanza’s voice rides high and clear, rendering even the most unusual turns smooth and digestible.
Elsewhere Lanza matches these high-energy numbers with a familiar set of more introspective cuts. Vivica is as smooth as they come, its trap-referencing snares complimented by an orchestra of handclaps. Opener New Ogi serves burbling arpeggios as a slight, blissful introduction, while Begins ticks with simmering menace. Each of these are strong enough songs individually, but the formula wears a little thin across the album, and it’s easy to wish for a little stylistic variation.
It’s a shame that this variation isn’t given generously, because when Lanza attempts something new she meets nothing but success. Oh No is the most obvious surprise, a glittering house cut with a colourful organ line and a busy arrangement of searing funk synths, bristling drumwork and caustic acid lines. I Talk BB is another winning shift, though admittedly of a more understated variety. It offers the most intimate vocal turn of the album, accompanied by longing piano chords and a dusty half-time rhythm.
There’s little to actively fault in Oh No. Lanza continues to prove herself a singular voice in modern music, with a clear, confident sound. Yet perhaps it’s this confidence that is in some way holding her back – what she’s already built is so strong that she doesn’t spread her wings to fly elsewhere.