To move or not move: Jessie Ware and Phoebe Bridgers

Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure

In 2012, she released Devotion, whose sleek electronic settings charmed listeners who wanted erotic yearning sung by a Real Voice that wasn’t Adele’s. Her followup two years ago was more of the same but slower. By 2017’s Glasshouse her ambitions were fast ossifying into mimicking late 2000s Annie Lennox. So imagine the shock when the tracks released in dribs and drabs bespoke a commitment to the dance floor — a full commitment.

Bumptious in its kinetic energy, What’s Your Pleasure realizes the hopes of those of us who longed for an album’s worth of the Devotion-era bonus track “Imagine It Was Us” and 2012’s Katy B collaboration “Aaliyah.” Mutant disco, nu-disco, Simian Mobile Disco, disco disco — the album earns its title. “We’ve got to stay in motion,” she insists on “Soul Control.” Those who pine for her exquisite fluttering on ballads will swoon over “The Kill” and “Remember Where You Are,” a closing sequence that bobs like the quiet parts in “I Feel Love” but with strings: dance music with menacing undertones, and why not? In the COVID as much as the AIDS era a bout of boogieing and bedding could prove fatal, for as another dance titan once put it, the perfect kiss is the kiss of death. You’d think enough artists (and listeners) would realize that earthly paradise is possible when armed with sequencers, bass lines, and kick drums. That slow mournful sequencer throb: the Almighty Oompah

Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

From Dylan and Joni Mitchell to Ani DiFranco and Conor Oberst, acoustic singer-songwriters record full band albums in part as acknowledgments that not only a world exists beyond the self, but that the world can accommodate this self. The originality of Phoebe Bridgers’ second album is how the thicker production by Tony Berg and Ethan Gruska deepens her interiority; when she addresses the errant, unfaithful “you” in “Moon Song,” a person with whom she’s simpatico enough to share a disgust for “Tears in Heaven” but feel sorry for Eric Clapton just the same, the multi-tracked vocal approach suggest she’s arguing with herself. Exploiting the aftermath of a breakup, fictional or real, for joyous artistic ends is common enough, but rarely in recent years has a musician done so as well as Bridgers does in “ICU,” where the nervous percussion and feedback crackles are like finger snaps in the face (“It’s amazing to me how much you can say/When you don’t know what you’re talking about,” boom).

These are punchy stories, abetted by a songwriting co-op that includes drummer Marshall Vore and Better Oblivion Community Center collaborator Oberst, and by the consistent surprise of Bridgers’ high, breathy voice; she sings as if perpetually awestruck, as well she should be. For her, the self is a flâneur, refreshed by contact with people and things she’s willing to concede she should have avoided — as in, say, “Kyoto,” about a trip that didn’t go as planned but, thanks to a “Penny Lane” trumpet, Only closer “I Know the End,” on which they encourage Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zimmer to treat his guitar like Neil Young does Old Black, fails.

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