Katy B first burst onto the scene with her sturdy dubstep-laced 2011 debut, On A Mission.
Three years later, and she’s still on that mission. But this time around, perhaps as a response to the waning popularity of dubstep, Katy’s traded in a bit of the wobbling sound of songs like “Katy On A Mission” from her debut and smoothed over her sound with euphoric ’90’s House on her 2014 follow-up — a sound that, frankly, has no expiration date.
Katy’s fully established herself as a dance floor diva on Little Red, sounding more confident and assured than ever — as with “Next Thing,” the Invisible Men-produced track that kicks off the collection. Wasting no time, the track sends us flying onto the dance floor amidst strobe lights and smoke machines. “We’re onto the next thing, leave them wanting more,” she cooly chants along a snappy deep House throb, not unlike something off of Annie‘s A&R EP last year. “Give ’em something to remember before we leave.”
While (just under) three years sort of feels like a long time between records, Katy’s been slowly rolling out the album for a while now.
It began with “Aaliyah,” which was originally included on her Danger EP: The bouncy Geeneus-produced ode to girl-on-girl jealousy — Geeneus is responsible for crafting more than half the album, by the way — saw the songstress pairing up with UK chanteuse (and equally reliable singer of songs), Jessie Ware for a lush duet. Over a year later, and the track’s inclusion on Little Red isn’t at all out of place; a testament to her strength as a songwriter, given that the song sounds as fresh as it first did back in December of 2012.
She’s dropped several songs ever since, including last year’s gorgeous summer anthem “What Love Is Made Of” (which, sadly, did not make the album’s final cut).
Of all the songs released prior to the album’s release though, nothing cuts deeper than “Crying For No Reason,” which (deservedly) just hit Top 5 in the UK this week. “Crying for no reason ’cause I buried it deep/I made promises I could not keep,” she aches. The pain is palpable between the devastating lyricism (a co-pen with the prolific Guy Chambers) and those sad disco pulsations, making this one a teary-eyed masterpiece.
In fact, it’s probably the finest tear-soaked disco anthem since Robyn‘s “Dancing On My Own.”
But then, “Crying For No Reason” isn’t the only late night anthem for feeling too much at once: “5 AM,” Katy’s bleary-eyed panic attack on the dance floor which was released back in November, provides an equally danceable burst of anxiety: “I need somebody to calm me down/A little loving like Valium, I need somebody to knock me out,” she melodically pleads across the slick, bouncing chorus. It’s the perfect last call anthem after a few drinks too many — a little too real, if you ask me.
For the most part, Katy supplies us with nostalgic sonic nods throughout Little Red: “I Like You,” for instance — the B-side to “5 AM” — sounds like a 2 Unlimited track, dusted off and given a little modern gloss and sophistication. And there’s “Tumbling Down,” a smooth, almost Island-tinged midtempo jam that plays like a Blood Orange remix of an unheard Sugababes classic.
“Everything” is, well — exactly that: It’s an undiscovered early ’90’s Hi-NRG gem, something that would sit nicely in between worn 7″ copies of Mariah Carey‘s “Dreamlover” remixes and Robin S‘ “Show Me Love.” “I will be the one, I will be the one!” Katy assures on top of a classic four-to-the-floor stomp. But the production keeps it from being purely nostalgia — the best part is when Katy’s voice suddenly detaches from the four-to-the-four pulsations midway and gives her a few moments to do some diva-sized belting.
But there’s plenty of room for more experimental sound, too: “Play” is a lovey-dovey swoon fest fleshed out into a beautiful symphony, as Katy twirls between musical metaphors to describe her euphoria. “I’m hungry for the sound, for your lovin’ I’m thirsty,” she urges before an assist by London electro star Sampha. “You play me those memories, and I’ll play you these melodies in my mind,” she croons across a spacey bright piano. As opposed to the familiar beats of a majority of Little Red, “Play” is one of the more forward-thinking productions. Consider it space-funk.
Deeper into the record, Little Red does more to showcase Katy’s incredible vocals than ever before.
“Emotions” is one serious show-stopper: Backed by celestial strings, stabs of ’90’s acid house synthesizers and an urgent chorus (“Filllllll me with emooooootion!“), the surging electro-ballad is like a trance reinterpretation of Björk‘s “Jóga.” It builds beautifully and — true to the mission statement — will likely fill you with all of the emotions.
Of all the slower moments, “Sapphire Blue” is truly the album’s most stunning moment. Produced by Jacques Greene, the hypnotic throbber chills the speakers with a delicate blast of icy synthesizers as Katy falls deep, deep in love in the club, zeroing in on her man and nothing else. “Everyone disappears, everything disappears/The floor around disappears, the walls around disappear,” she coos above vogue-ready pulsations. “No more space, no more time, just your skin touching mine!” she cries out in one almighty crescendo. (Sang, girl!) It’s truly bliss.
“Still,” the album’s closing number, doubles as one of the record’s most “pop” productions, positioning Katy as more than strictly a dance artist. Although there’s still a pulsating backbeat, this really isn’t a disco tune — it’s a thunderous power ballad, co-produced by Geeneus and Fraser T Smith. and armed with a gorgeously aching chorus: “Still!/Still on my mind/You still know how to make me feel/How come these wounds won’t heal?” It’s a haunting way to close out the set — almost like an Adele track somehow snuck its way onto a dance compilation.
Dance music today, generally speaking, has become an increasingly predictable genre thanks to the over-saturation of beat drop-driven, festival-ready “EDM” sound. But hope for innovation and sophistication isn’t entirely lost: Several key players in the dance arena are continuing to carry the mirror ball-encrusted torch without ever bowing to generic sounds and structures, including Disclosure, AlunaGeorge — and yes, Miss Katy B.
With Little Red, Katy B’s bested her debut, easily, and established herself as a force to be reckoned with — even if she’s not entirely all that well known. (Give it time.)
This is intelligently crafted, deeply emotional dance music full of rich melodies, nostalgic nods to the past and lyricism that ought to leave a lasting impression — and certainly leave them wanting more.
‘Little Red’ will be released on February 10. (iTunes)