“Goldenheart” – Dawn Richard

4 stars (out of 5)

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Product DetailsIndependent avant r’n’b artist Dawn Richard released an incredible EP last year, “Armor On”, which was actually an album, and has now released her first album which should have been an EP. With 16 tracks and over an hour’s playing time something has been lost along the way after the excitement of “Armor On” and her intriguing and original way of subverting the r’n’b genre, given its tired and wayward state following the golden years of the mid nineties. That’s not to say this a bad record, far from it, it’s just that I was expecting so much; “Goldenheart” makes a very good try but in the final analysis falls a little short of the mark.

The first third of Dawn Richard’s debut is the part I have the most trouble with, which is surprising considering it’s almost the most experimental segment, sonically at least. Richard and her producers have a default setting musically; a totally electronic, somewhat ambient, sometimes new-agey, beat-heavy soundscape with recurring (6 tracks) rapid hand claps panning from one side to the other, glassy and chiming sound effects, layered synths and multi-tracked harmonies. It’s a cold, crowded mix but ultimately (weirdly) thin and soulless with the disconcerting end result of certain songs sounding as though the backing track used could be interchangeable and almost irrelevant, such is the similarity between them. It feels as though tracks such as “Gleaux” (pronounced Glow) and “Riot” have been made precisely to demonstrate to Richard’s musical persona and aesthetic but instead end up sounding unfinished and experimental for the sake of it.

Pretty Wicked Things”, the sixth track, will make you sit up. Richard fans will already know this track as it was the first single from “Goldenheart” and from the eerie, desolate opening through to the unexpected collision of gentle trance pads, vocal effects exploding and a hefty dubstep drop, she has managed to produce a song with real tension and originality sounding nothing like Calvin Harris, Guetta, Skrillex or any of the other big name producers all of whom have gone from the dance genre to that of r’n’b, for better or worse. It’s an impressive achievement and an example of how I expected this album to sound; vocally Richards is a world apart from her contemporaries.

Warfaire” marks a change in mood musically and the second half of “Goldenheart” is a far stronger and more engaging, warm listen. “Warfaire” is a ballad that has one of the strongest melodies that we’ve heard thus far, it is simple both musically and vocally, impassioned and, (an overused word, but it’s appropriate here) ‘real’.  I believed the sentiment based on Richard’s brilliant, affecting performance. And, this is the surprising thing, the tracks that ditch the glitch and the complicated time signatures and honour the more traditional r’n’b/soul blueprint are without question the most cohesive and effective. Punning power ballad “Break of Dawn” sounds like a Diane Warren song that Beyonce would be happy to take to number 1 and, along with the one-off 3 minute electro pop perfection of “In Your Eyes”, is the best song here.  “Tug of War” is a persistent, soulful mid-tempo roller and could have featured on Electribe 101’s 1990 album “Electribal Memories” and current single, again mid-tempo, “86” is more than a little indebted sonically to Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” but is very much its own odd, unclassifiable creation that expands in power with each listen. The most audacious song though is the title track, Richard’s sumptuous harmonies echoing over Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’, it’s straightforward and maybe a little stand-offish but you have to admire her nerve for even attempting it.

All in all “Goldenheart” is clearly a  labour of love which could have been an exceptional debut but ends up being a very good one, due mainly to its unwieldy track listing and running time and a pandering to a style which may not be the one that best suits Dawn Richard’s undeniable talent. This album is apparently the first album of three and I very much look forward to the next instalment from this curious, ambitious and intelligent artist.