Three more recent releases for your listening pleasure. Jessie Ware’s sophisticated dance-pop, Yves Tumor’s abrasive electronica, and Rina Sawayama’s brash pop. Enjoy!
What’s Your Pleasure?
Jessie Ware is probably the UK’s most likeable mainstream pop star; I struggle with mega-sellers like Adele and Ed Sheeran, but Ware’s low-key delivery is adorable. Her 2012 debut Devotion was lovely, but she lost career momentum with her following releases. She’s roared back into relevance with 2020’s What’s Your Pleasure, focusing on delightful retro-disco.
What’s most striking about What’s Your Pleasure is the sheer musicality – it’s stuffed with great bass-lines and creative string arrangements. There’s plenty of reference points for pop geeks; the sonic experimentation on ‘Ooh La La’ recalls Berlin-era David Bowie, while the epic closing track ‘Remember Where You Are’ was conceived as an answer track to Minnie Riperton’s ‘Les Fleurs’.
Ware comes from a relatively famous family – her father’s a BBC reporter, while her sister’s an actress – so it’s surprising that her delivery is so unassuming. Her vocal presence is a constant delight – she’s relatable and personable. Lines like “You can stay overnight, if you ask politely” are interesting precisely because they’re so un-pop star.
The slick sophistication of tracks like ‘In Your Eyes’ recalls Sade, while Ware’s more forthright on songs like ‘Step Into My Life’. It’s the final track, though, that’s the highlight – ‘Remember Where You Are’ shimmers with retro grandeur. Even though a clutch of four-minute tracks stretched over fifty minutes is a recipe for an uninspiring record, What’s Your Pleasure? is magnificent – at the time of writing it’s rated as the third best dance-pop album of all time on Rate Your Music, behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion.
What’s Your Pleasure? is a delight, musical and likeable.
Heaven to a Tortured Mind
Yves Tumor is an American producer and vocalist, born as Sean Bowie in Miami and based in Turin, Italy. Tumour was raised in Nashville, and started making music to cope with “dull, conservative surroundings”; I imagine there weren’t many fellow Throbbing Gristle fans in Tennessee. Heaven to a Tortured Mind is Tumor’s fourth album.
Tumor’s an electronic artist, but the music’s abrasive enough to be accessible for rock fans. Tumor takes samples from John Wetton-era Uriah Heep and ‘Hangman’, from Jimmy Page and Roy Harper’s 1985 collaboration ‘Whatever Happened to Jugula?’ The industrial rhythms are propulsive, and there’s barely an ounce of fat on this quick moving record.
Tumor’s joined by New York R&B vocalist Diana Gordon for the wonderful advance single ‘Kerosene!’, and she does a great job of matching Tumor’s vocal intensity. Creative rhythms underpin songs like ‘Gospel For A New Century’, the opener where the stop-start rhythm track sounds like a technical malfunction. The second half of Heaven to a Tortured Mind is a little unmemorable and light on hooks, but it’s still an impressive record.
Yves Tumor’s abrasive electronica is a massive hit of adrenaline, and Heaven to a Tortured Mind is often thrilling.
Rina Sawayama was born in Japan, but moved to the UK at the age of 5. She’s a late bloomer, especially for the pop game, releasing her debut album at the age of 30. Her debut is brash and entertaining, running through autobiographical experiences like her family, helplessness in the face of climate change, and male privilege.
Musically, Sawayama is just as wild a ride, hitting a lot of genre points. What’s distinctive is the taste of mu-metal that pervades some of these tracks – ‘STFU!’ and ‘Who’s Gonna Save U Now’ feature crunchy guitars. She also able to switch to Japanese, like in the second verse of ‘Akasaka Sad’. Opening track ‘Dynasty’ has thematic heft, brooding both musically and lyrically.
Not everything that Sawayama tries sticks – ‘Chosen Family’ sounds like the theme song for a shoddy 1990s teen sitcom. The other big ballad, ‘Bad Friend’, is terrific – Sawayama regretting the waning of a previously vibrant friendship. As you’d expect on a pop record, there’s breezy material like ‘Tokyo Love Hotel’, while ‘Xs’ punctuates a pop tune with buzzsaw guitars.
Sawayama is flawed, but it’s also filled with vibrancy – when it works it’s unique and exciting.