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Mr. Tophat - Dusk to Dawn Music Album Reviews

The Swedish producer and frequent Robyn collaborator offers an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes.
Hardcore Robyn fans already know the work of Swedish producer Rudolf Nordström, aka Mr. Tophat. He co-produced “Baby Forgive Me” and “Beach2k20,” two of the gorgeous, gently filtered house-pop tracks from last year’s Honey; his own 2017 release Trust Me, a three-song, 35-minute EP of throbbing, desaturated grooves, featured Robyn throughout. His latest solo release, Dusk to Dawn, is an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes. More melodic than the distortion-warped A Memoir From the Youth, two and a half hours of mostly chill, mid-tempo house conceal interesting moments within slack expanses. At its best, it’s a triple-album endurance listen that rewards partial concentration; at its slowest, it’s an illustration that Tophat’s signature long-format tracks don’t scale.

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Buzzy Lee - Facepaint EP Music Album Reviews

Buzzy Lee - Facepaint EP Music Album Reviews
Sasha Spielberg reunites with her Just Friends bandmate, Nicolas Jaar, for a somber solo EP that finds the Wardell singer forging an identity of her own.

Sasha Spielberg has been meandering toward a solo career for years. In 2010, she formed the indie-folk act Wardell with her older brother Theo, and within a few years the pair were coasting on the appeal of their sibling-duo brand. (They happen to be the children of Steven Spielberg, but The New York Times urged readers to “Forget Their Dad; Just Listen to Them.”) By 2013, Spielberg was revisiting a slightly older collaboration, with her college friend Nicolas Jaar, the now-flourishing producer with whom she shared an electronic pop duo called Just Friends.

For her first solo EP, Facepaint, Spielberg has assumed the alias Buzzy Lee. Although it’s not a Just Friends release, Jaar produced every song on the record, which finds Spielberg forging an identity by distancing herself from Wardell’s folky aesthetic and inserting her own dreamy reflections into the experimental, downtempo electronic music for which her collaborator is known. Most of the EP’s five tracks are melancholy ballads with lyrics that sound ripped out of a journal, all mysterious, context-free drama. On the hymn-like closer, “Walk Away,” Spielberg delivers her curt opening lines—“Save it for the sake of the fight/Copy-paste the child inside”—with a bite, as Jaar surrounds her vocals in warm, languid synth tones. She has never found a better showcase for her breathy yet powerful voice than the production on these songs.

There’s a haunted elegance to Spielberg’s presence on Facepaint, a willingness to be still amid minimal production. “On the Radio” features the record’s sparsest staging, but she doesn’t overcompensate for that aural emptiness. “Pick the chairs and plates/I know that my things will find a home,” she coos, instead, describing a move into a new apartment as though she’s inside that empty space, watching someone else fill it with cardboard boxes.

Throughout the EP, Jaar’s flourishes—a steamy guitar solo or a sudden break into percussion—are like vivid, oddball details that thrust a dream out of believability and into surreal wackiness. Near the middle of “On the Radio,” he inserts the sudden, shrill peal of a bell. Often, these choices add necessary emotional gravity to Spielberg’s songs. At the end of “Walk Away,” her voice rises with the swell of the music, as she sings “Is this how you’re gonna grow old?” over and over until the angry urgency of a fight dissolves into exhaustion.

But not all of the lyrics bear repeating. On the title track, Spielberg frets about her heart being messed with “like face paint, like we’re children in the first grade, but with feelings.” The line doesn’t sound as awkward in the song as it looks written out, but it’s close.

The apparent outlier on this somber debut is lead single “Coolhand,” a boppy, infectious pop song about being sucked into social-media superficiality. But beneath the breezy hooks, Spielberg explores some trepidation about the way she’s curating her image: “Do I have to act like that/And chew a formula?” she wonders. It’s promising to hear her reflect on how she wants to present herself on a release that marks her emergence as a solo artist. Facepaint is Spielberg’s experiment in how to occupy space on her own—and it reveals a musician wise enough to give herself room to move around.

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