Jessy Lanza Is Both Master and Muse on 'Love Hallucination'

BY Noah CiubotaruPublished Jul 27, 2023

Jessy Lanza's original tracks often sound like remixes. The Hamilton-born, newly LA-based singer-songwriter-producer doesn't load her music with lyrics but has a keen sense of the words, phrases and ad-libs that can shortcut to a mood or concept, that seem to have been isolated as the most potent pieces of another song and placed within her own heady configurations. Her vocals are typically pitched up, lending her already-high register a helium-light quality and further giving the impression that she's playing with a sample's possibilities: dousing it with effects, chopping it into morsels, braiding it into loops. 

And since her lyrical motifs and vocal performances most devoutly reference the R&B of her youth — Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis's work with Janet Jackson has gotten plenty of shoutouts in Lanza's interviews — she serves as both the R&B star of her source material and the producer remixing its components in her effervescent house music. 

"Don't Leave Me Now," the first track and lead single from Lanza's fourth album, Love Hallucination, captures this skilful approach. The first thing we hear, over a four-on-the-floor kick, is the "don't" of the song's title ricocheting off clattering hi-hats before the faint plea of "don't leave me" makes its way to the surface, followed a few seconds later by an emphatic, echoing "now." Though referencing an intensified fear of mortality Lanza experienced after nearly being hit by a car, it's also the kind of sentiment ripe for the dance floor. When spliced and dropped into a bouncy sequence and beamed at three different pitches throughout the chorus, a line that could've been plucked from a song written for a romantic partner instead speaks to club music's call for communion and its fantasy of endlessness.  

"Casino Niagara" shoots for the same ecstatic effect as "Don't Leave Me Now," but pursues it through a strain of downtempo electro-R&B that Lanza has commanded on all her previous releases. It churns around a hiccupping drum pattern that could've been cooked up by Timbaland or Missy Elliott in the '90s, as Lanza delivers a fitting vocal performance that nods to Aaliyah with sweet melodies and breathy melismas. Her reverbed falsetto makes many words indiscernible, but you catch mentions of lips and pushing further, of something "feel[ing] so right" before the hook swirls with just two horny requests: "tell me" and "don't stop now." 

While "Casino Niagara" revels in the steam-blurred sensuality of R&B, Love Hallucination stands as Lanza's most sexually assertive record for its inclusion of "Marathon," a bratty pop confection that opens with her saying, in a speaking voice rarely featured in her music, "No, I don't rush / I don't like that position, no / If I come once, that's not enough." She coasts across its funky bassline and tactful sax section, riding the same gentle wave that buoyed the two preceding tracks,"I Hate Myself" and "Gossamer." 

The former — a curveball akin to the Shangaan electro-inspired "It Means I Love You" that appeared on 2016's Oh No or the wonky juke joint "Face" on 2020's All the Time — juxtaposes a slinking Balearic beat with persistent repetitions of the song title, sporadically interrupting the chilled-out vibe with a cough. If it's tough to imagine an occasion when it'd be pleasant to hear "I hate myself" on loop, the song's concept of converting an intrusive thought into a mantra still fits neatly in the Jessy Lanza universe, which has found humour and aesthetic inspiration in the strangeness of performing normality (see the "Lick in Heaven" music video and her DJ-Kicks album cover). "Gossamer," with its use of similar steelpan-sounding synths, serves as companion piece to "I Hate Myself," but manages to be the superior offering by disrupting its groove with the chorus's flashy stabs and by featuring some of the record's most grounded vocals. 

Still, it's "Marathon" that breezes past the finish line of that three-track run. Lanza brandishes a newly thorny attitude that calls to mind Coco & Clair Clair or Erika de Casier, artists who'd just as likely dismiss an unfit admirer with lines like "You talk too much" or "Fuck a fake smile and fuck a fake laugh / I don't think you're very funny." Lanza seems to be having just as much fun with the spritely synth-pop of "Limbo," which shows her voice in its most sugary state, chanting each letter of the song title with a cheerleader's pep and leaning into the hyperfeminine pitch of her vocal styling. Again, her lyrics become indistinguishable for much of the second verse — skipping into each other and their own echoes — as if Lanza, in a SOPHIE-esque experiment, was more interested in nailing the formal properties and sensation of a pop song, its content beside the point.  

In contrast to those personality-driven moments, Lanza chooses to foreground the production on other cuts: "Don't Cry on My Pillow" hypnotically adds and strips away elements as it builds itself into laidback disco house over a foundation of hollowed drums; "Big Pink Rose" is surreal and screwy in the best way, gluing together glitchy footwork, bubbly textures and a serene flute; "Drive" finds Lanza concocting what feels like a score for cruising through neon streets in a video game, propelled by bursts of juddering electronics and whispers of the song's title.

Lanza's longtime collaborator Jeremy Greenspan (of the Hamilton electronic group Junior Boys) co-produced those three tracks, and Montreal's Jacques Greene provides additional production on the album's nocturnal 2-stepper "Midnight Ontario." You can hear Greene's touch in the rapturous chord progression that saturates the low end, while Lanza sings of "falling like tears in rain," an image of total immersion, everything turned liquid.

That sense of totality reverberates throughout Love Hallucination's stormy R&B closer "Double Time." When Lanza coos, "Still I want you / Double time / Every night," her vocals split into spectral trails and drift toward each corner of the mix; it fills out to become one gauzy swath, and as she repeats those lines, the music — so sensual, so resplendent — responds to that desire for something all-encompassing. Every night. All the time. Like tears in rain.  

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