We get a lot of records sent to us here at The A.V. Club. Fortunately, we end up liking some of them. In Playlisted, we share our latest recommendations.
Album: Armor On by Dawn Richard (out now on Our Dawn Entertainment)
Press play if you like: Posh, sonically innovative R&B with shades of Sade; percussive laments à la 808s And Heartbreak; reclusive dance music
Some background: Dawn Richard has spent the bulk of her career working under or alongside Diddy, first as a member of his Making The Band girl group Danity Kane, then as a partner in his hip-hop/pop project Diddy-Dirty Money. Though that trio only released one album before disbanding, 2010’s Last Train To Paris, it was surprisingly good—a lavish collage of contemporary dance and electronic sounds that was infinitely more sophisticated than anybody could have expected from a project called Diddy-Dirty Money. Sensing that her solo career wasn’t a priority for Bad Boy, Richard left the label after Dirty Money’s breakup, but the singer carries that project’s best tendencies with her on her self-released Armor On, an electronic R&B record that plays more like Portishead than Keri Hilson. This one was crafted with headphones in mind. Primary producer Druski underscores Richard’s ruminations on sacrifice and heartache with a moody accompaniment of shivering synths and standoffish drums. Each track has a distinct percussive stamp: uneasy drum-and-bass breakbeats weave through “Black Lipstick”; “Bombs” cracks with fierce snares; tribal bongos steady “Heaven.” The sounds themselves aren’t new, but the final package is: Armor On is an unusually inward and temperamental pop record.
Try this: The album pointedly resists the Euro-house beats that now dominate Top 40 radio, save for one magnificent dance number that highlights what so many other dance-pop songs do wrong. Rather than starting in mega-mix overdrive, the Rick Rude-produced “Faith” builds to its climax, so when its combustible synths finally ignite, the payoff is fully earned.