Published May 22, 2018Even if it were entirely on its own, Alanna Stuart's sultry, soaring voice would be enough to leave you enraptured. But the teaming of her singing with Ian Swain's lean, agile instrumentals is downright irresistible.
Yes, the Ottawa-originated, Toronto-based duo Bonjay have released one of the very best R&B albums of 2018. Lush Life comes eight years after debut EP, Broughtupsy, which helped them earn an impassioned cult following. This followup is not only worth the wait, but should also be catchy and complex enough to help Bonjay break through into the mainstream, just in time for an arty R&B renaissance.
Opening track "Ingénue" is exactly what Bonjay fans have been waiting nearly a decade for, with its breathless "nah nah nah's," blunt, heart-wrenching drum breaks and other unvarnished dancehall elements that have endeared the duo to discerning R&B fans. Stuart dovetails Swain's instrumental by hoisting key notes high and penning deft lyrics about lost innocence. There's no fussing, no showy flourishes, just two pros getting down to business.
But Bonjay don't stop there, despite those elements being enough to satisfy core fans. "Ingénue," along with "Medicine for Melancholy," and "Chelsea" also elevate the dancehall-indebted sound that Bonjay hooked its following with nearly a decade ago. The strategic employment of shrill synth notes will send chills up your spine, and also evoke early Kate Bush singles that Stuart has cited as a key influence. Fluttering synth melodies, meanwhile, give a delicate foil to the purely primal, shuffling rhythm of "How Come."
Then there's the effects that render Stuart's voice a distant echo, as she audibly strains to be heard, understood and aided on the final lines of the chorus of "Brick & High Beam." It's yet another example of Swain knowing precisely what studio tricks will augment his cohort's strengths without drowning them out. Indeed, the masterful, wholly unique symmetry they attain make Lush Life essential listening. (Independent)