Album Review: Jessy Lanza – All The Time

[Hyperdub; 2020]

Jessy Lanza’s three albums have all been sets of tightly-written and pristinely-produced pop songs, compacted into 40 minutes – but their slightness belies the complexity and level of craft that goes into making them. She and co-creator Jeremy Greenspan (of Junior Boys) have followed their natural instincts into more and more idiosyncratic spaces, and that continues on third outing All The Time. This time around though, Lanza and Greenspan were working remotely – she in New York, he in Hamilton, Ontario – but that has only made the productions more daring. Perhaps working individually gave them more opportunity to try new things, which is why there are just so many layers of synths and drum machine creating unusual swishes and croaks throughout All The Time.

These quietly subversive sounds run throughout the album, even in the most approachable songs, and these moments are little lures to bring you back time and again (that’s if the more overt melodies and Lanza’s dextrous vocals don’t already do that for you). The cavalcade of textures is most evident in the wildly chopped-up and stretched samples of the whirring “Face”, which is the most unusual song here. But there are plenty more oddities: Robotic lounge track “Alexander” sounds like an AI sex robot teasing “would you rather be lonely?”, while the benumbed psychedelic swirl of “Ice Creamy” gives pain-killer addiction a hollowly arousing spin.

For the most part, All The Time is bright and upbeat, and there is no other term for it than “pop”. The twirling and bright instant-earworm “Lick in Heaven”, the punchy and glistening “Like Fire”, and the sultry devotional “Baby Love” are just a few examples of All The Time’s instantly-infectious alchemy. Even if they sound completely alien to what’s heard on commercial radio, there’s no denying their effectiveness, and it makes you wonder why more mainstream acts don’t take these kinds of risks.

Despite the incredible detail built into the songs on All The Time, the productions still feel spacious and lightweight – a futuristic version of the pop-R&B hybrid we already know. This allows the tracks to be engrossing in their layering, but still leave plenty of space for Lanza’s lyrical expression to come through clearly. And it’s shocking how deeply personal and painful a lot of it is for Lanza ­– and the fact that she doesn’t obscure it in layers of sound or poetic turns of phrase makes it even braver. The opening “Anyone Around” is slinky and alluring, but the words display a Lanza at odds with her own desires: “Oh when it feels like a win / but it’s all pretend.” The aforementioned “Lick in Heaven” sounds sugar-sweet, but is a reflection on a fight between Lanza and her partner: “I wanna act out instead of loving you / I can’t focus on myself or anything.” The puffing pulse of “Like Fire” seems tough, but in fact Lanza is turning the pen on herself, expressing her destitute state at losing a former flame: “you really fucked me up now.” She’s not hiding her feelings from herself or from the listener, and if it weren’t for the fact that they’re expressed amid luminous melodies, listening to these songs might feel like intruding on a private therapy session.

Although we get to know Lanza well through her honest words and emoting, we also learn plenty about her through the unusual textures. This is someone with a knack for detail, someone who wants to be different, someone who is quiet – but certainly not devoid of her own strong feelings. All The Time feels like an emotional battle zone, but by the time it winds up with the soothing title track, all we’re left with is a picture of Jessy Lanza standing proud, ready to face up to whatever’s set to come with her heart and her army of synths.