Hyperdub has developed a real knack lately for pushing its own boundaries. The latest step away from the label's dubstep roots is the debut album from Hamilton, Ontario native Jessy Lanza, whose Pull My Hair Back is co-written and co-produced by Junior Boys member Jeremy Greenspan. The album finds the pair working within a pop-R&B template, and boasts lush, analog production that underpins Lanza's graceful, floaty vocals. Pull My Hair Back certainly bears the stamp of Greenspan's production style with its elastic basslines, sparse drum patterns, and tender sense of romanticism, but the production in no way overshadows Lanza's role as a singer and songwriter. In many ways, it's a model of what collaboration should be, combining Greenspan's technical expertise and background in dance music with Lanza's classical training, songwriting talent, and reportedly encyclopedic knowledge of R&B.
That the results are achingly listenable comes as no surprise. Pull My Hair Back's first single, "Kathy Lee," combines icy finger snaps with deep bass tones, over which Lanza's ethereal, lovelorn vocals float, almost weightless. Similarly yearning is "5785021," which utilizes pitched-down vocal samples and amorphous low end as a necessary counterpoint to the longing in Lanza's voice as she recites her phone number and intones, "Call me." The excellent "Fuck Diamond" is the closest thing to an outright house track on the LP, and with its throbbing 4/4 and skittering claps, it's hard not to wish there were more cuts like it on the album. Similarly enticing are the Italo-influenced arpeggios of "Keep Moving."
Perhaps Pull My Hair Back's greatest strength is the way Lanza and Greenspan expertly balance warmth with an icy, machinic chill. Many of the tracks sit poised between the two moods, such as "Against the Wall," with its anxious verses giving way to a buoyant disco chorus, echoing the push-and-pull dynamics of romance and lust. Likewise, there is a masterful sense of restraint to the album's nine tracks, even on Pull My Hair Back's more synth-driven numbers; for instance, the skittering electro of the Ready-for-the-World-referencing "As If" never feels overly cluttered.
There's arguably nothing groundbreaking about Pull My Hair Back, but its artful combination of influences, subtle production, and the ambiguous emotional terrain it covers makes it one of the strongest debuts of the year. Equally worth noting is that the album's release on Hyperdub seems to solidify the label's commitment to releasing music from idiosyncratic and highly talented female artists—which sadly remains a much-needed impulse in the largely male-dominated electronic-music world.