Hamilton, Ontario’s Jessy Lanza seems poised for something big. Assisted by fellow Ontarian Jeremy Greenspan of The Junior Boys, Lanza has crafted and produced a short, ten-song album full to bursting with pop melodies and experimental, electronic flourishes. Whether pop stardom is in the books or not, Lanza’s latest release of atypical pop is a largely compelling and fun listen.
For Oh No, Lanza pulls from a wide range of diverse influences: her studies in jazz piano, formative R&B influences, vintage dance and hip-hop passed down from her father, and a seemingly limitless love of Japanese electronic music culled from the ’70s and ’80s. As a result, Oh No comes across as a deft reimagining of her childhood R&B heroes Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson, remixed by Japanese synth pioneers Yellow Magic Orchestra.
While Lanza never delivers anything quite as chirpy as YMO’s happier moments, she certainly opens up the curtains this time around. There is a palpable sense of progression from Lanza’s 2013 debut album, Pull My Hair Back. While songs like “Fuck Diamond” and “Keep Moving” had their hooks, they were never quite as focused.
Where Pull My Hair Back left a moody and sensual darkness, Oh No lets some light in. If Pull My Hair Back was content with being shrouded in mystery and washed out synths, Oh No is an open and honest look at the anxiety and confusion that comes with falling in love. Lanza confidently embraces her fears and demands resolution. She kicks back against lovers that put in the bare minimum on “VV Violence”, offering an eye roll of a hook: “I say it to your face but it doesn’t mean a thing.” On “Begins”, though, she still questions herself, asking, “everyone says you like it but is it good enough for you?” She tosses and turns, but in the end she knows what she wants and how to get it.
This newfound confidence pours into her music as well as the lyrics. Lanza openly embraces joyful pop tones on Oh No, but she places them in a unique context. Moments that could fall prey to the cliches of modern pop are subverted by dense arrangements and modest production. Even single “VV Violence” forgoes the usual thumping bass lines for driving hi-hat taps, only eventually opening up for one of the few widescreen choruses that infrequently pop up throughout Oh No.
The pop thrills to be had here never come cheap. Lanza’s hooks are obviously catchy, but never predictably so. Take the Chromatics-esque “Going Somewhere”, a track that crackles with unbridled lust. Lanza’s voice squeaks just at the right moment of her continued plea for a lover to “just say you love me” — a clever and understated effect that sends the heart aflutter.
The title track exudes a stylish sense of fun and is, perhaps, Lanza’s catchiest and most inventive song yet. While the song’s main chord progression dramatically builds up and up, she lays on some nice harmonizing chords that gently wrap around each other and create a contrasting rhythm. However, what could have lead to a cliched drop instead evolves into a Kraftwerk-ian blend of synths that keep up the momentum but never quite hit a fever pitch. By forgoing such cheap thrills, Lanza’s music contains an addictive quality, a constant search for resolution through dance.
While Lanza’s sound is refined, it always seems to consist of the same building blocks and, unfortunately, things get somewhat repetitive late into the album. There are a few moments where Lanza’s hooks fall somewhat flat or she drifts into more predictable territories. As a result, the latter half of Oh No can be an uneven listen, but these moderate low points are often mitigated by the captivating inventiveness found in most of this album.
While it’s tempting to peg this as a breakthrough, it feels and sounds more like an expertly crafted transitional album. Oh No acts as a refinement of Lanza’s previous sound while gently nudging pop as a whole into a more complex and subtle future.
Essential Tracks: “Oh No”, “Going Somewhere”