Seasoned though they may be, Body Language maintain the youthfulness and vigor of a band just starting out, and this album still has the charm and promise of a debut.
Thick, chunky bass lines. Gauzy analog synth stabs. Danceable house beats. Breathy, slinky, R&B-inflected vocals gliding over an electropop arrangement. Perhaps you've heard this band before?
Of course, any act is more than these descriptors alone, but it cannot be denied that in 2016 there is a glut of artists making music using these sonic materials. Jessy Lanza, AlunaGeorge, How to Dress Well, Harrison, and Kaytranada have all released albums this year that faithfully mine such territory, taking after the lead set by larger acts in previous years like Disclosure. When all of these familiar sounds come to the fore immediately on "Addicted", the first track and lead single from Brooklyn quartet Body Language's Mythos, it might be easy to get a bit dismissive. The track is pleasant enough, but it's a bit of a paint-by-numbers run-through of the elements outlined above. Angelica Bess's vocals are alluring and sensual; the synth bass is nimble and, if not danceable exactly, then at least wiggly. Nonetheless, the overall product comes across as an arid and somewhat lifeless attempt at flirtation.
These same elements bleed into the first minute of the following track, "Can't Hang On". At a mere seven tracks and thirty-two minutes, Mythos is by no means a lengthy listen, but for a brief moment, there is the sense that it could all get quite exhausting very quickly if Body Language persist in milking this style without variation. And then that chorus hits. "We've fallen further than we knew / I can't hang on / I love you but I cannot move", Bess sings, her voice suddenly opening up into a full-throated, commanding belt. She sounds like an entirely different singer compared to the slinky coyness of before, and it turns out this style suits her far more and makes for an enthralling listen. Bess continues in this manner on follow-up track "Free", at which point former skeptics such as myself will be locked in for the remainder of the ride.
From this moment forward, Body Language put their full arsenal in play, and the remaining tracks are an inventive, complex, and playful blend of genres and styles. Rather than adhering strictly to a particular arrangement of variables, Bess, along with bandmates Matthew Young, Grant Wheeler, and Ian Chang, mix and match their house, disco, R&B, funk, and pop influences in inspired and dynamic ways. It starts to sound like they're having, well, fun, and it becomes easy to have fun along with them.
When Young takes over for a vocal turn on "Changing Tides", and then again on "Be Mine", it injects the experience with a further sense of variety and, yes, a welcome statement about gender. Lots of electronic projects feature female vocalists backed by male producers. While this puts the woman in the forefront of attention, it can also play into a troubling dynamic wherein women become the objectified "face" of the band, and men are portrayed as the serious and technically savvy masters behind the scenes. This is why, perhaps unintuitively, it can be a bit subversive for female and male bandmates to democratically share both the vocal stage and the production backdrop, as Body Language do on Mythos. Unlike other synthpop acts like Chvrches, Bess and Young more evenly split their time as lead vocalists, and more importantly, Young's turns feel like more than mere obligations. "Be Mine" in particular is one of the highlights of the whole record, with a shimmering, spritely, fragile poppiness all but guaranteed to make you smile and sway.
Mythos is a physical album that does not take itself too seriously, but it is still thoughtfully and intricately constructed enough to persuade even the most dour of listeners. Body Language have been around since 2008, and seasoned though they may be, their music maintains the youthfulness and vigor of a band just starting out, and this album still has the charm and promise of a debut. Such energy will doubtless generate new enthusiasm for Body Language moving forward, making them just as exciting to watch now as they were eight years ago.