Album Review: Mykki Blanco – Stay Close To Music

[Transgressive; 2022]

In just over a year since their previous release, Mykki Blanco has continued to innovate. The mini-album Broken Hearts & Beauty Sleep helped Mykki ascend from a cult favourite to a staple of left-field rap and R&B, but their new full-length Stay Close To Music has only certified this even more.

Part of this stems from Mykki’s own admittance that “at that point in my career [pre-Broken Hearts & Beauty Sleep], I didn’t know what my own music sounded like without any kind of direct, outside reference,” but now, with their most recent offering, Mykki has created her own sound universe, or soundverse you might say. A real catalyst for this is their collaborations with multi-instrumentalist and electronic producer FaltyDL, who has brought live instruments and arrangements to both Broken Hearts & Beauty Sleep and Stay Close To Music.

Opener “Pink Diamond Bezel” sees FaltyDL provide soft synth pops with an irrational, breathy hi hat over which Mykki exhale chants, before a big band snare and a metal guitar shredding kick in. It might take you a moment to remember who is the creator of the record you’ve just put on. Nothing is out of the ordinary. On paper the different parts shouldn’t work together but they do, and so gloriously – cathartically, even. The different layers jut in and then jut out. They stand in and then out but blend so effortlessly.

Not to diminish the raw unadulterated talent that is Mykki Blanco, but their real achievement on Stay Close To Music is in the features; the quality and effort they get out of their guests here is astounding. Take “Your Love Was A Gift” for example; Dianna Gordon’s powerful vocals could be Kate Bush, they could be Courtney Love, they could be Whitney and they could be Hope Sandoval. It’s mesmerising. Each different word bellowed could have been recorded by a different artist in a different era. “Your Love Was A Gift” concludes with an Innervision-era Tame Impala breakdown which is beautiful; it’s like the aforementioned singers over Outkast in space.

Another early highlight, “French Lessons” finds Mykki, Anohni and Kelsey Lu harmonising perfectly, turning a punky, poppy romp into something more uplifting and world building. According to Mykki it’s the only song they’ve sung at all. She quipped; “Coming from rapping and also just being around a lot of singers who can sing in all these different styles, there’s a level of insecurity that you have to get over.”

By the time the fourth song, “Ketamine”, rolls around, you’re deep in Stay Close To Music‘s whacky grooves and genre-bending arsenal. The song diverts from real ballroom rager to bang-your-head to working-this-pussy into various bridges, including emo screams accompanied by a distant, reverbed fanfare or a twisted vogue future afrobeat jam. It’s a vogue-to-ballroom-culture [sic] and the chorus somewhat ironically belts “Bad bitches blowing ketamine in the club / come here silly bitch, show me some love.” Mykki and Slug Christ, the song’s feature, don’t need love. They’re doing it on their own. 

“Steps” is more of a ballad. It sounds like Kid Cudi singing “Miracles” by Insane Clown Posse – but without bat shit crazy lyrics. When the auto tune and vocal harmonies kick in, you’re transported to a lush landscape, encapsulated by Mykki’s velvet swirls.

Unfortunately, one of the low lights is “Family Ties”, a collaboration with Michael Stipe of R.E.M. fame. It’s still an interesting take with that moody bass, anthemic fanfares and general gothic feel but after 90 seconds you’re kind of left begging for more. 

It would be easy to say the album is carried by the collabs or FaltyDL, but that would be a lie. Mykki’s imprint is just as strong and powerful. Lyrics about spirituality or black queer politics add to the depth and joy of the record. It’s one that I wouldn’t hasten to put on at a family gathering but one that I couldn’t wait to play to my friends. With that being said, if you want to clear a room of dinosaurs both Stay Close To Music and most of Mykki’s oeuvre are perfect weapons to deploy.