Jessy Lanza Relinquishes Control on 'All the Time'
Jessy Lanza's All the Time is a lush and spacious collection that shows a hard-fought mental clarity, a deliberate effort to resist the instincts on display on "VV Violence" in pursuit of digging deeper into oneself.
All the Time
24 July 2020
"It's weird the things that you carry around with you as an adult from when you were a kid. I had this idea that I had to sing in a perfect way and just had this moment… where I thought, 'Who are you trying to impress by singing in that way? You should sing how you sing.'" All the singers that I really admire have weird voices."
I should probably disclose that I have a Jessy Lanza tattoo. At 18, I was so taken by 2016's "VV Violence" -- a song that bridged the gap between the dark pop divas I'd always loved and the hyperactive footwork percussion of Teklife DJs I'd recently become obsessed with -- that I knew I wanted the double letters of its name on my wrist forever.
The song marked a sea change from her 2013 debut record Pull My Hair Back, an extremely minimalist electronic record that saw Lanza's wispy chirp of a voice manipulated and contorted into submission. Robotic and menacing on "5785021", unintelligibly soaked in reverb on "Giddy", looped into a hypnotic rhythmic device on "Fuck Diamond", but always weightless and fleeting, leaving only the faintest impression on the album's heady production. Pull My Hair Back succeeds as an intense, swirling mood record, a constant state of calm before a storm. But it's also the sound of an artist getting their bearings: intentional but tentative, meticulous but withholding.
"VV Violence" is worlds apart. It's a busy, kinetic piece of footwork and house-inspired pop that reveals both technical mastery as well as a complete comfort in aesthetic vision. Lanza has described the song as "really fucking angry", but on "Violence", that anger manifests in a cold stare, or one sharp slap to the face -- no histrionics needed. The lyrics aim at the heads of those who would yank your work out of your hands and do it themselves. It's a defense of all the time dedicated to your craft. It's a takedown, but it's also a reminder: trust your instincts, and don't let anyone tell you you're "doing it wrong". After about a month with the song on a practically constant loop at school, on my commutes, and while I worked, I got a "VV" tattoo on my writing hand.
All the Time, Lanza's third full-length for Hyperdub, is the sound of an artist taking their own advice. Sonically, it's a rather conventional pop record with a black hole at its center. Her melodies are catchier and more airtight than ever, structured more rigorously than the dreamy, production-focused compositions on 2016's Oh No. Even the stickiest hooks are delivered over spare, hypnotic backdrops. Something is discomfiting, even eerie about Lanza's take on a pop song. There's an alien quality to the album's droning synths-- there's something almost Luigi's Mansion about "Badly"-- and an iciness to even the most danceable moments. Lanza's become a master of negative space-- a producer and singer who can wring far more from a prolonged moment of stillness than from unleashing fireworks.
And yet, in the same context, Lanza's voice has become more singular and commanding than anywhere else on her discography. Where Pull My Hair Back was rife with moments of Lanza's voice trailing off, unable to muster the strength to finish the thought, All the Time finds her voice soaring above the twinkling landscapes beneath it, featherlight but captivating. Production drops out almost completely at the peak of "Baby Love", which on past records might've been a more shapeless mood piece under Lanza's heavily processed whispers, placing full responsibility for the song's tender, vulnerable hook on Lanza's unadorned voice. "I'm giving up all my love / I'm giving it all to you," she resigns. It's one of several moments on All the Time where moments of quiet transform into something heart-wrenching and rapturous, all on the strength of Lanza's once unsure vocals.
Lanza's singing voice is not on its own especially powerful or emotive, but All the Time shows that she's cracked the code to "singing how you sing" and still maintaining a presence. Across the album, Lanza goes to great lengths to find expressiveness within her limited range, recalibrating her thin, breathy falsetto into an expansive palette. The album's purest banger "Face" is controlled chaos not dissimilar to "VV Violence", anchored by breathy, trancelike talk-singing and whispered declarations of desire: "Baby is it just enough? Tell me, do you want it all? Baby, are you feeling tough? Feeling tougher more than not?" The stark, insistent standout "Over and Over" is punctuated by strained yelps and sighs, gurgling synths replying to her staccato vocals. "Ice Creamy" utilizes vocal processing in a way that doesn't betray control: layered in sour, deep-voiced harmonies, the chorus manages to sound both playful and haunted.
Lyrically, All the Time tracks an exponentially increasing need for comfort, safety, and stability -- in doing so, the bulk of the album is a claustrophobic retreat into the self. It's a surprisingly refreshing approach to pop, which recently has been preoccupied with depersonalized cultural diatribes or constructing escapist fantasies. Indulging one's psyche and the little dramas it creates seems especially salient as All the Time releases during a period where many people are left with little aside from their racing thoughts. All the Time renders the internal monologue paralyzing and breathtaking.
Lead single "Lick in Heaven" at least makes this phenomenon sound fun. The song boasts a churning, euphoric burst of a chorus, but Lanza's mind is elsewhere: "I can't hide it / Been feeling so low I don't know what to do… Once I'm spinning, I can't stop spinning." Obsessive thoughts trickle in constantly across the record in looping, rhythmic refrains on "Over and Over", "Badly", and "Face"; other tracks lament a lack of control over one's brain. Lanza can't think straight on "Anyone Around", feels crazy for always repeating herself on "Alexander", finds comfort in the way that love strips little irritations of importance on "Baby Love".
Though All the Time indulges and dissects neuroses, it's not the sound of someone falling off the wagon. Rather, this lush and spacious collection of songwriting shows a hard-fought mental clarity, a deliberate effort to resist the instincts on display on "VV Violence" in pursuit of digging deeper into oneself. Intrusive thoughts flare-up, but they're allowed to wash over, eventually fading away. The payoff is immeasurable. The album's unhurried closing track, underpinned by a percussive line that sounds like someone sprinkling fake snow from above, is one great sigh of relief, a grateful acknowledgment: no pain, no doubt, no grief living in your mind can stay there forever. Tempting as it may be to give yourself over to the voices you've curated in your head, how overwhelming even the smallest sensations can be, it means something to be able to feel it all.