Album Review: SG Lewis – AudioLust & HigherLove

[Jasmine Music; 2023]

In October of 2021, Pitchfork, in a rather unusual move as part of its 25th anniversary celebrations, released a list of albums whose score on the platform should be changed. It was mostly a list of great records, misunderstood at their time, getting a score bump. But among the few albums whose score was lowered was Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. It may have shocked some to see it there given the memory of the critical uproar in 2013 for the Grammy-winning record, but a few moments of reflection might lead one, if not to agree, to understand the score reduction. Conventional, well-made dance music is exciting, and for those well-versed in the genre positive immediate responses even if unwarranted may be very hard to contain.

If this preamble about the excitement of dance music is included, it is only a due caveat before talking about a very exciting dance record. Influenced by the indie sensibilities of the likes of Bon Iver and the party savviness of The Neptunes, SG Lewis is notably skilled in balancing the melodious with the energetic. Active for nearly a decade, Lewis has given his resume a boost in recent years with production credits in the works of Mabel, Jessie Ware, Tove Lo, and Dua Lipa, crafting them glittery, pulsating electronic pop perfectly crafted for the stage at Glastonbury festival. Now taking the lead seat once again he brings us AudioLust & HigherLove, his pop sound now with himself as a vessel.

From the very first second of the slow burn minute-long intro, it shows: Lewis wants your undivided attention for this sound, each subtle hint more inviting, until the record launches into the arena-sized disco of “Infatuation”. From the punch of the verse to the perfect flow from the pre-chorus to the energetic chorus, the song rushes through the body in pure, say, ‘musical passion’. “Holding On”’s swirling groove makes sure the listener won’t sit back down, as the song calls for “one more dance”, with a perfectly suited guitar solo testifying to the British DJ’s skills as a pop music craftsman. Further calling attention to that, “Call On Me”, one of Lewis’ contributions to Tove Lo’s Dirt Femme reappears to prove an even better fit here than in its original record. With this first stretch of songs, SG Lewis proves himself the life of the party with the enrapturing flow of his compositions.

Slowing down the spectacle, the atmospheric “Oh Laura” is a pleasant breeze in this busy record but is also the first hint of the spell breaking. It is a familiar good that loses a bit of its shine as one wonders where they heard this before. Another atmospheric piece, “Another Life”, with its larger-than-life pre-chorus, atmospheric sound, and luxurious feel, leaves one wondering whether they’ve heard it before in this record.

Lewis doesn’t neglect the need to capture the listener, however. Lead single “Missing You” brings the album’s catchiest synth lines along with one of the most sing-along with choruses. “Fever Dreamer” enlists frequent collaborator Channel Tres along with Charlotte Day Wilson to close the AudioLust section with the most traditionally disco cut of the project. With its carefully executed bass and drum lines and the laid-back, confident performances of the guests, the song falls short of being Chic, but at least succeeds at being cool.

Opening the HigherLove love part of the record is its most instrumental forward piece, the almost nine-minute long “Epiphany”, which features no vocals save for a few spoken word lines. Rather than the centerpiece it seems to be on paper, the track is closer to a relaxed and drawn-out exploration of the album’s sonic palette. Much like the inspired 70s tribute was a lot closer to an epiphany, “Epiphany” is much closer to a fever dream.

Further exploring the artist’s inspirations is “Lifetime”, with an instrumental less than subtly reminiscent of late-period Daft Punk, layered with Lewis’ voice until he is one with the buoyant melody. “Plain Sailing” then makes the DJ’s voice even more prominent, in a composition whose more naturally sounding guitars and drums and more expressive singing would push away from dance music entirely were it not for its sparkling synths. Before one can get too excited again, however, Lucky Daye and Ty Dolla $ign join in for “Vibe Like This”. True to the title, all parties involved give their all to the vibe. Sadly, from the familiar chorus to easy-going drum and piano, none of them seemed too concerned with substance.

In stark contrast, “Different Light” with its subtle start-stops and vocal samples, hints at musical ideas, but clocks in at just 1:40. The listener may find themselves justifiably weary of the lengthy track list, which stretches to 62 minutes, but there is some reward in making it to “Something About Your Love”. The single shows Lewis in one of his rare moments of a perfect balance between wearing his influences on his sleeve and being himself, with a tune somehow both more reminiscent of Daft Punk and more laden with his personality than “Lifetime”, both energies coming together for a truly inspired ending. The mistake, then, was to not end here. Closer “Honest” is a fun song with interesting elements, but it being what puts the album over the hour mark means its mid-tempo low-energy feeling might find listeners too exhausted to appreciate it.

Undeniably, AudioLust & HigherLove is good. The issue comes if one has any expectations of greatness. Any who listen to this record will enjoy it, there’s no reason not to. However, with more run time than ideas, the album runs the risk of having both too much and not enough to make listeners keep coming back. SG Lewis is a talented artist and is capable of bringing out the best in those whom he works with. Though I wish him success, AudioLust & HigherLove gives me the impression that the best-case scenario would be a Jack Antonoff kind of fame, where he will guide others to great music. Still, his own music, even if just as good, won’t get the same attention because the man is simply not big enough a personality to bring substance to his own sound. That is not entirely a complaint, however. I listen to Bleachers, and I will be on the first row to check out SG Lewis’ next release, even if I may have forgotten this one by then.