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Lion Babe - Cosmic Wind Music Album Reviews

The second album from the singer/producer duo aims for laid-back but stalls out at sleepy.

Cosmic Wind, the sometimes-engaging, often-listless second album from Lion Babe (aka singer Jillian Hervey and producer Lucas Goodman) seems crafted with a fantasy in mind: warm summer night, rooftop overlooking the city, Christmas lights, friends laughing, drinks flowing. The focus is vibe and mood, on allowing yourself to—as Hervey sings on “Never Before”—“Sip slow with my eyes closed/I can feel more when I let it flow.”

Free from their major-label deal, Lion Babe returns to the genial blend of R&B, funk, and mellow electronica of their 2016 debut, Begin. To their credit, Lion Babe don’t seem to be chasing hits anymore, and there are moments on this album—like the Pet Shop Boys-sampling, Raekwon-featuring summer jam “Western World”—that feel truly freed from the constraints of their past work.

The album starts off strong with opener “Cosmic Wind.” Hervey sinks into a warm, bass-heavy groove, her Badu-indebted vocals imploring her subject to tell what’s on his or her mind. She even slips into a throaty rap, proving herself more than capable; when she deploys her rapping on Cosmic Wind, like on the minimalist “Reminisce,” it’s a counterweight to her singing, which sometimes feels on the verge of drifting into sleepy weightlessness.

The album is at its best when the pace picks up, effectively canceling out the duo’s desire to set a mood. Standout “Into Me” is a bouncy and effortless electro-bop that finds Hervey operating like a siren: “Intimacy / sexually / emotionally / financially / spiritually / get into me,” she purrs. On the smoldering “Sexy Please,” Goodman deploys muted double-time drums that call back to voguing balls, and with a pulse beneath her, Hervey allows herself flashes of cheeky personality that are otherwise missing throughout the album.

Many of the tracks on Cosmic Wind, however, are undercut by a lack of energy or a distinct identity. They could have been made by a grab bag of alt-R&B artists over the past decade; they meld warbly bass, predictable chord changes, layered vocal effects and nonsensical lyrics to create enjoyable yet inconsequential experiences. In trying to sound laid-back, Lion Babe wind up sounding nearly anonymous.

Single “Hit the Ceiling” is a prime example. “All night, gotta stay up / And I just can’t get enough / Going out, I’ll see you around / Downtown in the scene,” Hervey sings. Much of the album follows this tendency, gesturing at an idea rather than filling it in. Hervey’s lyrics desperately need a dose of vulnerability or color; she’s about as convincing on the subject of love as Flava Flav. Goodman, for his part, frequently almost gets there with his production—slow jam “Different Planet” features a fat bass line that steer the song toward Timbaland territory but gets stranded in Ginuwine-lite.

It’s all passable, but when compared to the charisma and innovation of peers like Nao and VanJess, both of whom released stellar R&B-indebted, genre-bending projects last year, Lion Babe’s attempts to create a vibe that simply isn’t there come off as hollow. Toeing the line between artful restraint and playing it safe can be difficult, and despite the moments where Lion Babe gets it right, they have a long way to go to set the mood they’re so intent on finding.

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