Wynter Gordon: With The Music I Die (Album Review)

It was right after she first began posting demos on her MySpace–songs like 2007’s spacey “Surveillance” (which remains as next level today as it did the day she unleashed it upon the world), that I first took notice of Wynter Gordon, the 23-year-old underdog with a superstar’s worth of potential waiting to be unleashed each time she lays a pen to paper.

Just a few years after graduating from LaGuardia’s High School for the Performing Arts (alma mater of such notable acts as Kelis and Nicki Minaj), the young songstress had already notched herself a major writing credit with “Gonna Breakthrough,” a song from Mary J. Blige‘s Grammy Award-winning seventh studio album, The Breakthrough.

Ever since then, the co-writes and features (and unfortunately, the myriad leaks) only kept flowing for Wynter securing a spot on Danity Kane‘s 2008 sophomore record, Welcome To The Dollhouse (“2 Of You”), penning the impossibly catchy chorus of Flo-Rida‘s chart-topping 2009 radio smash “Sugar” and David Guetta‘s “Toyfriend,” joining The Freemasons on their essential 2010 summer jam “Believer” and, most recently, scribing three tracks off of Jennifer Lopez‘s stellar 2011 comeback record LOVE? including title track, “(What Is) Love?”

But despite all of her success as a writer, the song that truly launched Wynter as an artist in her own right was 2010’s “Dirty Talk,” a filthy-mouthed foray into kinky taunts and raunchy references to S&M above a dark disco beat that debuted nearly a year before Rihanna ever started crooning about her enthusiasm for chains and whips.

The song not only notched the singer’s first-ever #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance/Club Play stateside, but kept her straddling Australia’s ARIA Chart at #1 for three weeks in January (and the duration of Australia’s summer season).

Now, nearly four years since she first started making ripples across the blogosphere and beyond, the Queens-born singer/songwriter has finally released her long-awaited, much delayed debut: The fabulously titled With The Music I Die.

With The Music I Die is the album of Summer 2011, as well as one of the best records of the year–a flavorful collection of sparkling dance floor gems packed with hypnotic rhythms, pulsating beats, ruthlessly catchy hooks and an unwavering attitude.

Released exclusively in Australia (with worldwide release planned for later this year), every song on the record is a genuine hit–from the sauntering “Drunk On Your Love” courtesy of the brilliant Nervo twins, to the hazy ’80’s beats of the Nick Littlemore (Empire of the Sun)-produced “Still Getting Younger,” to “Rumba (feat. Kevin McCall),” a lusciously hypnotic Latin-tinged banger (and the best thing she never serviced to J-Lo.)

Looking to repeat the smashing success of “Dirty Talk,” the album’s opener and second single (and namesake!) “Til Death” bursts with an explosive chorus and a searing throb courtesy of Denzal Park. “Til death do we party, with the music I die!” Wynter declares. Between the awesomely defiant lyricism (“Wearing all black like a brand new bride”) and the carefully crafted hooks, it’s hard to describe “Til Death” as anything less than slay-worthy.

Still, there’s plenty of potential candidates for follow-up singles, including the edgy, temptation-riddled “Don’t Stop Me.” “You’re giving me the look, you want it / Uh! You’ve done it now,” Gordon groans above the dark, throbbing beat. The attitude doth overflow on this bossy little club shaker: It’s a little RiRi, some Celebration-era Madge, a wee bit of Britney‘s “Trouble” all rolled into one sensational aural orgasm.

Then there’s the gorgeous “All My Life,” the album’s most straightforward club cut: “I can’t eat / I can’t sleep / I can’t dance ’til you’re with me!” Wynter sweetly pleads across the song’s surging, trance-tastic beats. Trip to Ibiza, anyone?

But just as with “Dirty Talk,” Wynter’s at her best when she’s being a cheeky brat, including the sparkling “Buy My Love.” The summery uptempo finds the flirty chanteuse dusting off the age-old “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” mantra and giving it a modern twist: “There’s a million ways to show your devotion / So many ways to sway my emotions / Don’t you hesitate to buy my love!” she merrily crrons above bouncy beats and electro-steel drum rhythms.

One of Wynter’s greatest strengths is her effortlessly melodic, urgent vocal styling. Accordingly, “Back To You”–the album’s spine-tingling mid-tempo (and only actual “ballad”)–might be the best representation of both Gordon’s sharp-witted writing skills and flawless vocal delivery: “I’m a fabulous example of an exhausted wanderer,” she croons above the chilly whisper of a beat. “I can walk all day and smile and say that this here is success / But it don’t mean shit unless you’re here, and you’re not, and I’m a mess.” The song is the very definition of too real (in the best way possible), and one of the many indicators that Gordon is far more than a run-of-the-mill dance floor diva.

But it’s in the album’s incredible final moment, “In The Morning (feat. Robbie Rivera)”, that Gordon burns brightest. Like the sad disco sound that Swedish pop queen Robyn has crafted as her own, “In The Morning” bumps with an undeniable tears-on-the-dance-floor throb. “I am going home alone tonight / You are with your friends. and that’s alright / ‘Cause they all hit on me when you’re not looking,” Gordon half-snickers, half-sighs before a cascade of bright synthesizers comes crashing into the speakers. It’s sorrowful and celebratory all at once–the mark of a perfect dance song.

Although I would have loved to hear her flexing the R&B-pop muscle she’s been building up over the past few years, the album’s strictly dance floor-only status doesn’t limit Wynter to filling a drink up in her cup or getting bodied in the club. Amidst all the fun and flirtation, there’s also sadness, anger, resignation and angst. It’s a much more emotionally complex record than the beats might imply, proving what dance aficionados have always known to be true: Dance music doesn’t have to be dumb.

Now, as “Til Death” continues to rise on Australia’s ARIA Singles Chart and the temperature begins to drop down under, one thing remains certain: Australia is in for a long, long Wynter.

With The Music I Die was released on June 17 in Australia. (iTunes Australia)
The With The Music I Die EP was released on June 28 in America. The full album will be released later this year. (iTunes)

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