Pop music has become the latest frontier for critically acclaimed indie acts to conquer. With poptimism being quite real, critics look for the next mass-consumed product to laud. But there’s something to be said for sticking with an unique artist who’s simply looking to transition to the pop realm. So when Jessy Lanza, she of the alt-R&B triumph Pull My Hair Back, looked towards pop music’s endless confidence, the hopes were certainly high for the outcome. On Oh No, she does not disappoint.
The trend of musicians releasing the best single from a great album long before that album’s release date makes that single’s appearance that much more enjoyable. Tim Hecker’s angelic Love Streams is the strongest example of the year, with the lachrymatory “Castrati Stack” providing ample buildup for the ultimate product. Lanza contrasts this with Oh No‘s most euphoric offering. “It Means I Love You”, with its pulsating forward motion and immediately-stuck-in-your-head repetition, works as the album’s ideal candidate for critically acclaimed music that adds the identity of being popular in the truest sense of the word. Its squeaky synths mesh well with footwork percussion that never seems like a forced pairing. Instead, it adds to the movement of the track and gives it a vibe that even the most top-40-centric listener would be powerless against. But this is not the only song on Oh No that should work its way onto summer playlists.
Like pop’s current confluence of genres, the production behind Lanza draws from multiple sources. On “VV Violence”, a synth line indebted to the house of Todd Terje’s It’s Album Time blends with footwork hi-hats. Lanza absolutely floats over this synthesis and it makes for an immediately danceable track. “i talk bb”, in contrast, returns to the R&B roots of Pull My Hair Back and a perfect FKA Twigs falsetto is employed over a proper slow jam beat.
Ultimately, Oh No succeeds because it matches the criteria Lanza herself set for a sound she looked to achieve. In an interview with The FADER, Lanza described her ideal sound as “the bass would be really big, and my voice would be high, thin, and weird to counteract it”. The aforementioned “It Means I Love You” and “Going Somewhere” fall into this category, with her voice offset by deep synths. “Vivica” opens with a booming bass, but then mutes it as the song continues, snares and hi-hats instead taking the lead. The title track begins sounding like that which was developed on the Weeknd’s Kiss Land, but abruptly switches to one of the happiest beats on the album.
Oh No aims for pop and hits it squarely. This might not be usual top-40 fodder, but any song will seamlessly fit into the rotation of music whose primary aim is to be as appealing as possible. This is not to say that there are not challenging moments; rather, the intricate production and her continually stunning voice are on their own commendable, but the manner in which they come together to create a product that can be enjoyed without taking the care to examine all of its moving parts is wonderful on its own. “I just want to impress you,” she explains on “Going Somewhere”, and anybody who listens to Oh No can confirm that she’s succeeded.