When you put a more indy-fied spin on an incandescent pop artist, their credibility is, somehow, easily enhanced by endless remixes. Some pop artists even seem in danger of not existing wholly in their own music, depending on this remix market for critical acceptance. It’s a curious symbiosis between the star’s unfettered product and the DJ’s response—a cultural dialogue that remains a constant fascination.
For starters, there is something infinitely likable about Ladyhawke. She’s tomboyish and hopelessly nerdy, her music videos seem to play with gender roles (doubtless due, in part, to her sexuality) or her normal-person good looks. Because of this positioning, the sugary hooks she writes emanate from her with a curious foreign quality. At best, she’s like a millennial Carole King: The every-day girl who writes with a pink passion that we’re more comfortable hearing from the succulent, shimmery lips of someone much more porn-y looking than the actual songwriter. This doffing of expectation is one of the best things about Brown’s music. More over, she tends to write pop numbers with at least a pulsing current of honesty or fear lurking beneath them. Part of what made the track “Magic” so incredible on her 2008 self-titled is that it was so gaspingly stalker-iffic. Ditto the writhing desire of her Kim Carnes–esque “Back of the Van.” The synth-heavy production on Ladyhawke combined with her effortlessly remixable pop jams earned her somewhat of a reputation as a synth-pop goddess. It’s a role that suits her—the songs themselves don’t have to be ingenious, but just solid, if they can be easily restructured into irresistible dance creations.
But her second album, Anxiety, ditches a lot of the disco in favor of ’60s go-go style slithering psychedelia, perhaps to a fault. (Even the sharp opening beat on “Girl Like Me” half-convinces me every time I’m about to hear “Shut Up” by The Monks.) It’s understandable that she’d want to depart from the strictly nightclub sound, but the production here is so unstoppable in its fuzzed-out nostalgia and occasional purring Hammonds it almost feels like it should be included in an Austin Powers franchise.
The lyrics still strive for that brazen honesty—the title track, “Anxiety” refers obliquely to some chemical addiction, although it’s likely just hormonal. The lead single, “Black, White And Blue” verges on a superiority complex, where she stands in sad judgement of someone prone to self-abuse. The general claim of invulnerability on Anxiety hints at anger and resentment, which feels unbecoming when it’s her whispered humanness that makes Ladyhawke so exciting and relatable beneath all the cellophane of pop production. (Speaking of, the track “Cellophane” is needlessly cryptic and about half of the power ballad it wants to be.)
Yes, there are a few great jingles here, some that require the slow burn of many listens before you can let yourself give in entirely. On the whole, Anxiety lacks the addictive quality of its predecessor, and it’s certainly less musically interesting. That’s okay, though. The remixes it spawns will probably be killer.