Review Summary: Hypnotic and cavernous, PRINCESS is everything right with RnB in 2016.
Remember Alunageorge" Remember how they were supposed to be the Next Big Thing way back in 2013, until they kind of faded away and it took a monster remix by DJ Snake to bring them back to the cusp of relevancy" There are probably many reasons they never truly broke through on the strength of their original work, not least of which being a failure on Island Records’ part to properly market the duo’s stuff when it was released, but I’d like to propose a fairly simple explanation. 2013 was arguably the central year in the short-lived Era of Electronic Dance Music, a year when Avicii’s pop-house and Baauer’s hyperactive trap broke through into mainstream consciousness. Body Music
, by contrast, was an altogether more subdued affair, drawing most of its sounds from the self-seriousness of the UK’s bass-centric garage and dubstep scene. Bigger was better in 2013, and Alunageorge’s comparatively sparse song arrangements couldn’t hold up when faced with the gaudy maximalism of Zedd and Calvin Harris.
In 2016, things are a little different. We’re in the Year of Drake and (possibly) the Year of Tidal, where the stuff destroying the charts draws its power less from EDM hedonism and more from seductive RnB rhythms. This is the year where Flume’s weepy half-time has finally (and deservedly) made its mark on the pop music world, where Rihanna and Beyonce are revitalizing their world conquests on the back of lugubrious, immersive production. Things have changed, and it’s in this new landscape that Alunageorge is planning on re-entering the stratosphere with a new album set to release in September - except they may have been beaten to the punch by an up-and-coming singer named Abra.
Part of the hot-fire Atlanta collective Awful Records, Abra makes heavily-processed RnB in much the same vein as Alunageorge, except everything is grimier, emptier, and more lethargic. PRINCESS
is slinky, percussive music that sounds like it was recorded in a gas station bathroom. The bass is cavernous, the mid-range is practically nonexistent, and the vocals are filtered so many times that they sound less like a lead and more like just another instrument in the mix. “Pull Up” is all lo-fi vocal harmonies and overwhelming low end, plinking synth occasionally giving the greyscale mix muted touches of color. There’s not much going on, but all the sounds are just out of phase enough with each other that the resulting gloominess fills the empty space appropriately. “Big Boi,” by contrast, drops shuffling, stuttering drums alongside a hypnotizing bassline, oddly choral harmonies backing Abra as she purrs alongside rattling snares.
Whatever your opinion of Princess
, it’s fairly clear that it’s a product of the new directions mainstream RnB is heading, stretched and warped like Play-Doh by all-stars like FKA Twigs, Tinashe, and The Weeknd. What’s most compelling about Abra’s take on the style is that she takes the relative straightforwardness of most of the genre (sans people like FKA) and leaves it out in the sun for a while, letting it wilt and covering it with a few layers of dirt and sweat. It’s proudly unpolished, and that lack of varnish gives it a strangely visceral appeal lost somewhere in the chrome of hyperproduced RnB. While Alunageorge’s sophomore LP might catapult them back into the spotlight, if Body Music
is any indication, its care in construction will make it less ambitious than PRINCESS
- meaning that in one quick EP, Abra has succeeded where her arguable predecessor fell short.