Blue Dot Studios LLC (label)
17 July 2020 (released)
04 August 2020
It's always interesting to watch how a small fringe movement, a niche underground subgenre can over time seep its way into the groundwater to become deeply intertwined with pop music years later. Though industrial music had a peak in the 90s after coming into its own the previous decade, it still remained a style revered by a relatively small sub-section of heavy rock and electronic fans. Gawked at and maligned by the pop world and certainly not of any interest to the hip hop community coming up. Or was it??? Given time, hardline divides ease and producers from across the aisle begin to admire the techniques used by the other side, bringing them in to give their style a wider scope. Fast forward 15-20 years later and rappers looking to up their artistic edge points, are incorporating industrial production and imagery into their work. By the 2010s, a pop chart-topping artist like Jay-Z had definite industrial markers woven into his beats and gothic imagery in his videos. Hell, Kanye's 'Black Skinhead' is basically a redo of Marilyn Manson's 'The Beautiful People'. They learned they could make bomb beats if they used some industrial tricks and textures.
A similar thing happened with trip-hop. Not quite the same freak status as industrial, but it was still the realm of tortured weirdos. Far from dominating the pop charts. Now, if you look at today's pop scene, it is replete with the ethos of the 90s Bristol sound. A large swath of pop artists that have ever produced a thoughtful, moody, or heartbreaking tune have borrowed from the likes of Portishead and Massive Attack.
Los Angeles-based artist, Little Warrior works in the milieu of pop r&b but takes many cues from the 90s downtempo scene. Her debut full-length record Flight Risk brings a huge infusion of trip-hop into her 2020s contemplative pop sound. Over rounded keys and chill beats, she croons in her signature fairy-dusted pixie voice. Her songs of the back and forth struggle of love are filled with slinky hooks and warmly transcendent moments.
The album is bookended by conversation snippets that imbue the record with a warm sense of nurturing family. Lead track 'Back & Forth' offers the first peek behind the curtain. The after-midnight chill of Rhodes keyboards is met with her airy voice, duetting with herself in a dropped octave. The added lower tone instantly brings a haunting air of depth, a trick relished by artists like The Knife and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. Little Warrior contemplates her willingness to give when the rewards can be hard to see and come seldom. Collaborator BaOS chimes in for a verse about being a better man. Drawn out synths that gradually rise and fall seamlessly shift the track from one section to another. As Warrior's voice rises to a higher vibration, the sonic spirits rise to greet her in kind.
Fat, creamy bass like butter on hot toast underpins the hypnotically catchy 'Never Do'. A perfect minimalist beat slides in for the slick, simple chorus. Her semitone dropping lines are entrancing. Another wonderfully weird gem 'Never Be Found' is announced with the rapid trumpeting of synthetic brass and blown-out bass before sinking into a demented nursery rhyme chorus with the whistling sonics of dive-bombing planes coming down all around her.
'Over' and 'Runaway' both bring a lilting wistful mood to Side B. Her airy vocals mourn finished relationships with a calm sense of acquiescence and appreciation. 'Turned to Never', the album's final full song, draws a lot from Imogen Heap with its rich, billowy delivery. An a capella intro verse gives way to light cumulus keys. Little Warrior finds peace in coming out the other side, a changed person. Open road ahead.
Flight Risk is all about air. The album is wispy, floating, unconstrained. The soundtrack to freedom by letting go of your tethering forces. Little Warrior takes a dose of the oddity of trip-hop but tempers it with a strong r&b feel that is luxuriously smooth. Late-night vibes to help guide you to your next phase.