Jessy Lanza
Pull My Hair Back


2.5
average

Review

by Will Robinson STAFF
December 5th, 2013 | 29 replies


Release Date: 09/10/2013 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Presenting 2013’s most overrated album.

One need not look further than industry-leading electronic music coverage site Resident Advisor to see the gushing praise critics everywhere have lavished on Jessy Lanza’s debut LP Pull My Hair Back. Praising Lanza’s “skeletal approaches to pop music” and “knack for velveteen R&B melodies,” RA rated the album a 4.5/5, calling it “one of the year’s best debuts.” This reviewer would like to claim that Resident Advisor is failing to make an important distinction between good music and experimentation. After all, it’s true that Pull My Hair Back is sonically ambitious. It’s a rather difficult listen, with muted, arpeggiated synths repeating to the point of exhaustion and Lanza’s breathy vocals providing a fascinating counterpoint to the weight of the melodies. The album explores oft-untrodden territories, and Lanza should be rightfully proud of how much ground she has covered on her first full-length release.

However, there comes a point when music becomes too obtuse for its own good. 2-CD concept albums and fifteen-minute guitar solos fall on one end of this minimalist-maximalist spectrum, overindulgent to the point of being practically masturbatory. On the other end lies Pull My Hair Back. If there is a gray area between interesting and, quite frankly, boring scarcity, Lanza bounds past the edges of the gray at full stride. And while some people will obviously see beauty in the nagging, obnoxious melodies and the lack of the subtle sonic elements - an eerie high-pitched string, maybe, or even just a crackle of static - that separate Lanza from some of her more mature (and better) Hyperdub labelmates, in this writer’s humble opinion Pull My Hair Back is sparse to the point of pomposity and insipidity. At times, it’s almost as if Lanza is anticipating this negative response to the album by taunting us, daring us to speak out against the overwhelming positive reception the album has received - if you don’t like it, “you can call me - you know my address.” (This may indeed be an attempt to be seductive or romantic, but Lanza delivers the line so smugly that it’s hard to interpret it as such.)

What’s most shocking about the countless magazines and blogs lauding this album is that almost all of them cite the production as a central point of praise. The rapid arpeggios - most of which sound strikingly similar - grate and chafe. Whether it’s because of the unsatisfyingly blocky sonic architecture, the use and reuse of a seemingly arbitrary trio of notes ad nauseam (looking at you, “Giddy”), or the way the on-beat synths clash with the eerie strings, the melodies and harmonies are uninteresting at best and annoying at worst. Even during the few moments Lanza shines vocally, there’s always some musical element which throws off an otherwise solid few seconds. Take “Fuck Diamond,” for example: Lanza’s wonderful wordless warbling rubs up against poorly placed male vocals and a female sample repeating the title over and over again.

Staying with “Fuck Diamond” as an example for a moment, it’s unfortunate to see that voice and instrumentation are never totally on the same page. A surprisingly wonderful intro and verse give way to wavery, slightly off-key crooning unfortunately characteristic of much of Lanza’s lower range. Her upper end, while slightly better, is hampered by how weightless it sounds, airy to the point of total lack of substance and purpose. And when Lanza is indeed on point, some element, most often obnoxious-as-fuck spoken-word clips (I swear, next time I hear that goddamn “Kathy Lee” sample, bad things will happen), derail the music and divert the listener’s attention from what Lanza is doing well.

And, looking back, it’s sad to see how many little things went wrong with Pull My Hair Back - this could have been a very good album. Lanza has the potential to be as vulnerable and beautifully fragile as the most intense UK-bass-meets-American-RnB moments have allowed, and at times the production - most notably in the spaced-out funk of “Keep Moving” - truly shines. However, even given that Lanza explores sonic landscapes many artists of her ilk won’t even touch, especially as such a young artist, it seems as though she has sacrificed musical quality for the pursuit of the new and unknown - a sacrifice which doesn’t often turn out well.



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user ratings (22)
Chart.
3.5
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Brostep
Staff Reviewer
December 5th 2013


3471 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Come at me, if thou pleasest

Eloriaz
December 5th 2013


703 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

D':

Great review though, very well-written (as far as my English knowledge can say)

"Keep Moving" is awesome! Right??

Digging: Objekt - Flatland

ShitsofRain
December 5th 2013


5911 Comments


let's talk about your hair

Digging: Round One to Round Five - 1993-99 Main Street Records

Brostep
Staff Reviewer
December 5th 2013


3471 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Yeah, Keep Moving is far and away the best on this (with the possible exception of Fuck Diamond).

Typhoner
December 5th 2013


871 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

review is very much "everyone likes this, but they ARE WRONG". Personally I think this will almost never lead to a pleasant-to-read review.

Digging: Token Records - Aphelion

NocteDominum
Contributing Reviewer
December 5th 2013


7097 Comments


sacrificed musical quality for the pursuit of the new and unknown - a sacrifice which doesn’t often turn out well.


This, a problem on repeat and is becoming all the more common. Excellent write up Will, I miss the 4/5 reviews though.

Brostep
Staff Reviewer
December 5th 2013


3471 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

everyone likes this, but they ARE WRONG

Wanted to go for more of a "everyone likes this, but here's why I think they are wrong" but I guess I didn't do it all that well.

And @Robert: check my last 5 reviews before this haha

NocteDominum
Contributing Reviewer
December 5th 2013


7097 Comments


Lol, I just mean you have a different tone when you review with a higher score, like the album makes you glow a little : ]

Omaha
Staff Reviewer
December 5th 2013


10284 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Your descriptions of the music at hand are on point, as expected-- always shows that this breed of music (RA-music, as this review might say) is the one that speaks to you the most.

I do not think your review needs to bring up counterpoints. It's a good idea sometimes, but more often than not 've learned the best time to do such things is when you have something insightful about their points-- an idea that points out the misjudgment on their end. And here, while I see that you disagree with RA's assessment of this release, it seems to be founded on little more than personal preference-- something I'm not sure is worthy of our attention.

Tackling others' reception of an album is always tricky, because one has to wonder how much the general concensus matters with records like these.

Brostep
Staff Reviewer
December 5th 2013


3471 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Thanks for the advice as always! I guess kind of meta-reviewing (i.e. responding to something already written) is interesting for me because you can only write so much in a vacuum before you need contact. There were other ways to handle this review, that's for sure

breakingthefragile
December 6th 2013


2961 Comments


Omg Will you don't like anything [231232189038120943785902479035204]

InFiction
December 6th 2013


3686 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Pretty decent review, but I disagree entirely. Also, Strange Emotion is clearly the best track.

PunchforPunch
December 6th 2013


6280 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

shit's bangin'

mindleviticus
December 6th 2013


8292 Comments


yeah i didn't find this very interesting

PunchforPunch
December 6th 2013


6280 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

nah its good

Brostep
Staff Reviewer
December 6th 2013


3471 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

it's all right but it wasn't all that impressive to begin with and it grew off me hard

MadKungFu
December 7th 2013


375 Comments


Sounds like I'm going to like this more than you did but I'm way the fuck into experimentation and such

Typhoner
December 7th 2013


871 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

maybe one of the issues of "responding" to other reviews is that it seems like your opinion is harsher than it actually should be because you're trying to counter (in your opninion) too positive reviews. It seems like you would've liked it more without reading all those raving reviews.

Brostep
Staff Reviewer
December 7th 2013


3471 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

yeah, that's probably actually true. I guess I went into it with super high expectations and it disappointed immensely

mindleviticus
December 8th 2013


8292 Comments


Or it could just be really boring and derivative



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