Two more female solo artists this week, and again they’re quite different from each other. Jessy Lanza, from Hamilton, Ontario, is back with another record of classy adult synth-pop. California’s Olivia Rodrigo just dropped one of the most anticipated pop albums of the year, delivering much more consistency second time around.
Canadian electronic vocalist Jessy Lanza straddles musical world. She grew up listening to R&B and hip hop artists like Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, and Missy Elliott. But there’s also a decided arty streak – she’s well-versed in the solo output of all three Yellow Magic Orchestra members. The mid-point between accessible R&B and arty electronica works for Lanza – she’s mysteriously beguiling. It’s reminiscent of Jessie Ware’s disco record from this year, but Lanza is more subtle and ethereal. Lanza worked in her home studio, supplying much of the instrumentation, but The Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan remains a key collaborator.
The more energetic songs at the start of the record are often the most effective. Lanza can become bogged down on slower tracks like ‘I Hate Myself’, where her ethereal voice becomes too becalmed. But early tracks like ‘Don’t Leave Me Now’ and ‘Limbo’ work beautifully, Lanza’s voice floating over classy disco beats.
Lanza’s breezy pop music feels insubstantial by design, but it’s often gorgeous anyway.
Olivia Rodrigo was the breakout pop star of 2021. Already known for her work on High School Musical, she stepped into the solo spotlight with the lovelorn piano ballad ‘Driver’s License’. She became the youngest artist to debut atop the singles chart, while the rockier ‘Good 4 U’ also topped the charts. There was a sense that Rodrigo’s instant success forced the release of debut album Sour before it was complete – it was brief, and there was a substantial drop-off in quality between the five singles and the deep cuts. The success of Sour made Guts one of the most anticipated albums of the year and Rodrigo’s delivered, using the time and space to create a stronger album. She’s back with producer Dan Nigro, who’s also worked on acclaimed pop records by Sky Ferreira, Caroline Polachek, and Carly Rae Jepsen.
Following the success of ‘Good 4 U’, Rodrigo’s delved further into rock music here. It gives her an interesting angle, mixing her theatre kid background with relatively abrasive rockers. Opening track ‘All-American Bitch’ jumps from a mellow opening to headbanging punk rock.
Rodrigo’s canny enough to pain herself as the underdog, making her forays into rapping endearingly dorky. While’s Rodrigo’s writing about teenage angst – justifiable when she’s barely into her twenties – she’s witty about it. ‘Get Him Back!’ is built around a pun – “I want sweet revenge and I want him again.”
The record’s dominated by guitar songs like ‘Bad Idea Right’ and ‘Ballad of a Homeschooled Girl’. In comparison, the piano ballad ‘Logical’ feels like an uneventful echo of ‘Driver’s License’. There’s also a fascinating change of pace with ‘Pretty Isn’t Pretty’, which sounds uncannily like Disintegration-era Cure.
Guts isn’t flawless – Rodrigo’s merely 20 and still learning her craft. But she’s one of the most impactful pop stars in the world right now, and it’s fun to have her personality-driven, guitar-driven rock in the mainstream.