Release Date: Oct 21, 2014
Record label: Island
Genre(s): Pop, Electronic, Pop/Rock, Club/Dance, EDM, Left-Field Pop
Kiesza's rendition of Haddaway's 1993 hit “What Is Love” is emblematic of both the flaws and virtues of the Canadian upstart's debut, Sound of a Woman. Born Kiesa Rae Ellestad, the singer-songwriter made her breakthrough this summer with “Hideaway,” a deep-house throwback whose title happens to sound, perhaps coincidentally, a lot like Haddaway, and which makes the inclusion of a song like the similarly pitched “What Is Love” on her album seem apt, if not downright obvious. But rather than do a straight cover, or even a modern update, Kiesza transforms the bombastic pop-house classic into a plaintive piano ballad.
Of all the singles that have triumphed in the mainstream this year, Canadian artist Kiesza's deep house viral hit "Hideaway" is a peculiar standout. Yes, it boasts the same borderline sterile production of today's biggest pop songs, but its distinct '90s throwback influences a la CeCe Peniston and Robin S are something that almost none of her contemporaries reference, let alone find major success with. The Calgary-born singer and songwriter showcases an even wider palette on her debut full-length, Sound Of A Woman.
After a new artist has had a runaway hit with their first single, it can be easy to guess what might be in store on their debut album. That’s exactly the kind of trap that newcomer Kiesza could’ve quickly fallen into, following the tremendous success of her first offering to the world. Luckily, she’s not one to be written off so quickly. While her debut album ‘Sound Of A Woman’ starts big with her Number 1 single ‘Hideaway’ opening proceedings, her full-length is anything but a collection of songs following that same pattern.
Canada’s Kiesza enjoyed the kind of viral success that’d make a social media guru drool; her one-take choreographed video for Hideaway came out in February, and, thanks to the power of dance, was a mainstream hit on both sides of the Atlantic by the end of the summer. Perhaps as a means to move things on, it’s Hideaway that kickstarts her album, a surprisingly varied collection of tracks held up by her hurricane-force vocals. Although dipping into the warped world of alt-R&B occasionally, her sound is heavily indebted to the 90s – a concoction of Lisa Stansfield, Shakespears Sister and Robin S’s Show Me Love – and it rarely resists going full throttle.
At first, a lot about Calgary-bred dance-pop star Kiesza's debut album seems overwrought - the sung-to-the-hilt throaty vocals of the first few tracks (including smash single Hideaway), the stubborn dedication to mid-90s music throughout. And lyrics in dance music aren't always deep and meaningful, but the repetitive pounding of "If we could all fall in love together, we'd have no enemies" on No Enemiesz - yes, with a "z" - seems extra fromage. But eventually, subtleties and variety emerge.
Disclosure’s Settle wasn’t just the best debut LP of 2013, it was also the best dance-pop crossover record from last year; with no dominant trend in the sub-genre cropping up this year, the Lawrence brothers have dominated 2014 by proxy, too. Their rising success can be found in industry-shepherded superstar collaborations and dance veteran co-signs; they were also responsible for putting the most boring new pop star of the year on the map. All of which has lead to the music industry’s typically craven search to find something, anything comparable when it comes to satiating the fuzzy-boots crowd’s sudden micro-thirst for vocal-driven house.
Kiesza’s second album (the Canadian’s first since her folk-to-pop rebrand) opens on a high with Hideaway, her 90s-drenched No 1, but from here on, nothing quite matches the single’s deserved hype. The exploration of various styles, from the retro dance-pop of No Enemiesz to R&B ballads such as Piano, sparks a few moments of interest (Joey Bada$$’s appearance on Bad Thing is a particular highlight), but this medley of genres leaves the album feeling fragmented and inauthentic. Ultimately, too many promising tracks fall flat, and Kiesza’s strong, emotive voice is forced to do all the heavy lifting.