DAWN concludes her Red Heart trilogy with an enigmatic yet polished dance album.
The third act. The resolution. The denouement. In a three-act structure, this is the part where all the loose ends are tied up. The questions that have been posed throughout the narrative are finally answered as the plot builds to an often dramatic and intense finale. Often the central character enters Act Three with renewed hope after suffering a crisis of confidence in Act Two. In the case of DAWN’s Heart trilogy, second album, Blackheart served as her Act Two. That album saw DAWN explore much darker territories as she wrestled with her identity as an artist and as a person. It was a far-reaching and expansive album, with scant regard for categorization or adherence to genre, demonstrating still further that DAWN was going to do things on her terms.
Now DAWN concludes her trilogy with Redemption Heart, the third and final release in her musical triptych. It sees her observing the three act structure, offering a much brighter and hopeful counterpoint to Blackheart. Once again the album sees DAWN paint with a varied palette, not allowing herself to be straitjacketed by genre. That said, this is still a much more definable album in that it is a more singular, upbeat dance album, designed for the dance floor rather than nights at home reflecting on the pieces of a broken heart. In part, this is thanks to the club-ready production from Machinedrum who adds pop ready textures and innovative percussion. In addition, DAWN has been very discerning in her choice of guests with the album only finding room for NOLA natives PJ Morton and Trombone Shorty who ground the album and give it a sense of place.
The scene is set on the aptly titled “Intro” where wondrous, sparkling keys sound dropped in from an equally fantastical Disney film. First song proper, “Love Under Lights”, is a minimalist club banger with washes of ascending synths. It acts as call to anyone and everyone to come together as one on the dance floor. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be a DAWN album if it wasn’t pitched just left of the mainstream. The Eastern sounding beats that conclude the song give the song an avant-garde twist. Although the album sounds steadfastly modern there are welcome traces of her eclectic mix of styles throughout. “Black Crimes” borrows the full-on '90s house synths of early Faithless and tops them with springy beats. DAWN also finds plenty of room for live instrumentation that gives the album depth and variety. “L.A. Laidback” features a slinking bass line coupled with live drums and distortion. In many respects, it feels like a tribute to the purple one himself especially when the Prince-worthy solo breaks on top of the soul wave.
Rebel anthem “Renegades” is a resolute plea for respect for those that dare to be different. Machinedrum creates a loping rhythm and builds layers of percussion to support DAWN’s vivid soulful voice. It’s a powerful club banger, worthy of Rihanna. However, the song is slightly marred by DAWN adopting Rihanna's penchant for swallowing vowels. “Lazarus” and “Tyrants” follow in the same vein, at first seeming like tautly constructed club anthems before revealing themselves to be slightly more radical. “Voyeur” surprises with a sparse blues sound akin to the retro-blues of the Black Keys.
Like many artists this year, DAWN addresses some of the issues affecting African Americans living in present day America. “Black Crimes” sees her engage in the debate surrounding the injustices faced by many black Americans. Additionally, she openly addresses gay rights and feminism on many of the songs on the album as she cleverly leaves the listener to wonder at the androgynous nature of the lyrics. It’s clear that DAWN wants this to be a very inclusive album with anyone in need of a voice able to find something on this album. There is no sense of exclusivity with the party open to all.
While the sound is perhaps more chart-friendly in places, the themes and eclectic instrumentation places her just left of the mainstream, retaining the enigmatic quality that made her so interesting in the first place. She weaves NOLA instrumentation with contemporary club ready sounds to give the songs real depth and substance. The main criticism of the album is the pursuit of a modern, bright edge with a number of songs tainted with the overuse of Auto-Tune. They are unnecessary and can distract from the majesty of her voice. The fear being that whereas, her first two albums had a timeless quality, this sounds locked in the here and now. Overall, this is a satisfying and suitably upbeat conclusion to her Red Heart trilogy. As third acts go it ties things up nicely.