There’s something exhilarating about listening to an album like Rochelle Jordan’s latest project, Play with Changes. It’s hearing a bright and brilliant talent at her creative best. Play with the Changes works simultaneously as a playlist and homage to dance music and electronic R&B. UK Garage, dance-pop, house, and soul are laced throughout the great ear candy – all crafted with consummate skill by Jordan’s partners-in-crime, KLSH, Machinedrum, and Jimmy Edgar. The best dance-soul records combine innovative production, smashing beats, and a charismatic lead: on Play with the Changes is a masterpiece of club beats, deep hooks, and sweet vocals. Like a post-millennial Donna Summer, Jordan brings warmth and passion to the icy synths and the tailor-made beats.
Jordan’s voice is a smooth, creamy instrument – soulful and spirited. It’s lithe and agile, able to thread its way through the tight, sharp arrangements of these tracks. When skating over the skittering, stuttering shuffle of the album’s opener “Love U Good”. Her angelic, hypnotic croon nestles comfortably amongst the scurrying rhythms. The UK garage of “Love U Good” leads to Jordan’s homage to house, “Got Em”, a particularly hypnotic earworm. European house is also represented by the throwback nostalgia of “Already” which has a stylish swagger that recalls early 1990s club culture. And “Dancing Elephants” – the album’s best song – is a fabulous retro club-pop record destined for voguing in queer clubs.
The other dance songs also reach back to sounds of the UK and the EU, not surprising, given that Jordan was born in London. The neo-disco of Europe finds its way in the dance cuts on Play with the Changes. Her collaborators – KLSH, Alix Perez, Jimmy Edgar, Machinedrum, and Sepalcure – put together a record with songs with their roots in the thrilling and shimmery club culture of London, Paris, or Berlin. And though the songs owed more to two-step and electronic club music, Play with the Changes even flirts with mainstream dance-pop on “All Along”.
The best songs on the album are club tunes, but there are some lovely, state-of-the-art slow jams. The same attention that the crew put into the EDM-flecked uptempo tracks is given to the gorgeous ballads. Her sweet, sterling croon rests comfortably on the stately and romantic ballads, too. The space-age R&B of “Broken Steel” is lovely and sensual. Just as she looks to ’90s house on some of the dance cuts, “Count It” pays tribute to the grinding, slow-burn soul ballads of ’90s urban radio. And “Lay” has a wonderful, summery vibe of ’70s soul songs. Though the slow songs lend themselves to decades of the past, they do not sound dated. Far from it. Instead, Jordan and her collaborators use these classic sounds with affection.
Play with the Changes brings together some of the best of 2020s urban pop and dance music. It’s the kind of elegant, smart, and literate music that celebrates songwriters and producers who are working just a skosh out of the mainstream. It’s pop with deep roots in club culture with subtle influences of underground and alternative soul. The tight-knit collaboration of Jordan and her crew make for an astonishing achievement.