By: Ben Norman
When you make the sort of splash a popular debut artist like Ladyhawke did, the obvious question is “can they back it up?” Is the artist’s talent sufficient to allow for future hits, whatever direction they decide to go with their music? You’ve seen it all over the place; the artist’s second album is a huge deal in establishing their longevity in the music scene. Adele, Katy Perry, Florence + The Machine, all wildly successful artists whose sophomore albums solidified them in the mainstream consciousness. Meanwhile, those like LCD Soundsystem and Cut Copy find their groove and maintain their effect on the scene rather than wildly changing things in either direction. More still are those who have a negative effect with their sophomore albums, stunting what could have been a sparkling career. In cases like Scissor Sisters and Basement Jaxx, the “sophomore slump” didn’t seem to be too lasting a curse though, as both groups have continued to release awesome music despite. And so we look at Ladyhawke, the New Zealander who’s debut album was a nugget of pure 80s influences. Her sound was easily compared to her male contemporaries Pnau and Empire of the Sun, yet her music spoke a little more universally, tracks like “Paris is Burning” and “My Delirium” achieving top 40 status in her home. And for the indie fanatics across the world (you know the ones), Ladyhawke was another shining beacon to dance along to while avoiding pop radio.
So now that we have the sophomore album slated to drop in May, what sort of lasting impression can we expect? Well, the biggest difference so far is Ladyhawke has doffed her 80s influences, branching out further to incorporate more of a slick, grungy pop sound. Her percussion is big and runs the gamut through decades of influences. This album hits hard, the songwriting yielding a lot of immensely catchy tunes. While lead single “Black White & Blue” may lose its lustre after a few listens, don’t give up hope about the album. “Blue Eyes” is probably the strongest song on the album, lending it easily to future single status. It, like the large majority of the album, plays more like an electronic-tinged pop/rock track. “Sunday Drive” probably most closely resembles the sound that could be found on her 2008 debut album. But cuts like “Vanity,” “The Quick & The Dead,” and “Girl Like Me” showcase just how much Ladyhawke has evolved her sound. And it sounds amazing.
When it comes to Ladyhawke’s other following, the group that loved dancing to her music, the original material may be leaving a little to the imagination. Her voice is wonderful as always, but her songs just don’t entice the body to move, outside of head-bopping or foot-tapping. These songs are not crafted for mainstream electronica, four-to-the-floor beats are refreshingly absent on this offering. Anxiety, however, has incredible remix appeal. The album, while not thudding through each track, does offer a consistently comparable tempo. This will go a long way for her new tracks finding themselves on the dance floor. The catchy songwriting will also make it easy for us to find songs like “Vaccine,” “Anxiety,” and “Gone Gone Gone” in remixed format. Will they maintain the appeal that her debut tracks had for the floor? That will depend on who takes a stab at remixing her. The awesome opportunity that arises from remixing tracks that aren’t already designed that way becomes more obvious when you strip away the beats and synths and focus on the creativity required to give a song new life.
I find this to be an excellent offering from Ladyhawke. At 10 tracks, it’s almost too short; but they are a thoroughly enjoyable 10 tracks. “Blue Eyes” and “Vanity” are the obvious standouts, but I’m really curious to see how Anxiety finds life on the dance floor. The Big Pink has already released a lo-fi non-dance remix of the lead single “Black White & Blue,” giving us the evidence of creativity I mentioned, just lacking the beats. If she plays her cards right, Anxiety could be much bigger than her debut, especially given how catchy these tracks are.
Released June 2012 on Casablanca Records.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the record label.