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Album Review: Dawn Richard - 'Goldenheart'

Mesmerizing, Futuristic

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Album Review: Dawn Richard - 'Goldenheart'
On her latest solo project, former Danity Kane and Diddy-Dirty Money vocalist Dawn Richard further distances herself creatively from the music of her past. Gone, apparently for good, are the pop hooks and mainstream rap of her previous groups; they've been replaced by dance music and non-traditional hip-hop the likes of which have a refreshing uniqueness to them. The year 2012 was notable for its forward-thinking R&B-leaning artists like Frank Ocean and Miguel gaining wider appeal. And the first significant R&B-tinged album of 2013 isn't just forward-thinking, it's positively futuristic. Dawn Richard's Goldenheart, released in the U.S. Jan. 15, 2013, is also a mesmerizing piece of work that proves that it's not just the male artists in urban music who possess the ability craft albums that are creatively way outside the box, but still highly entertaining.

Smooth and Cold

Few artists in modern music history have gone as far as Dawn Richard has to remake their brand and reshape their image as Dawn Richard. When he first emerged on the scene as Dawn Angelique with her 2005 debut album, Been A While, her music and vocals were your average, run-of-the-mill, near-generic and relatively forgettable. But since breaking free of both her former groups and maturing and evolving as an artist, Dawn has taken a hard left turn into realms that few artists today have dared to explore. Goldenhart, like her 10-song March 2012 EP, Armor On, is a at various times moody, atmospheric, futuristic, hypnotic and highly danceable. And also like Armor On, it takes the bold step of sounding absolutely nothing like any contemporary urban music out there today, mostly thanks to her primary producer, the Grammy-nominated Andrew "Druski" Scott.
On songs like "In the Hearts Tonight" (which pays small homage to Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight"), the hypnotic "Return of a Queen" and the dance song "Gleaux" (pronounced "glow'), Dawn and her producers create sonicly intricate songs that seem as smooth and cold as an ice sculpture, but have a human vulnerability buried at the core.

Hypnotic

Among the best examples of the humanity within is the song "86," where she sings about surrendering to the sweetest emotion: "I put my hands up, Surrender, 86 on pretending, Heart is unlocked so enter, Defenses are down I'm ready to love." And on the six-minute "Break of Dawn," she sings about being pushed toward her breaking point, until realizing that such a point was much farther away than she ever imagined.
But it there's one drawback to the album, it's that the icily futuristic tone and the singer's somewhat chilly vocals almost work against Goldenheart at times. In music, particularly R&B music, singers are expected to form a connection with the listener with their words and voice. But Dawn practically puts up a wall around herself on the album's first half as she demonstrates what a strong-willed woman she is on various songs. Also, Druski's production is so hypnotic and mesmerizing, it sometimes overshadows the vocals to the point that it doesn't really seem to matter what's being sung.
But overall, the music and vocals work well together more often than not and make Goldenheart not just an album, but a journey that Dawn Richard fans are likely to want to experience over and over through repeat listening.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the record label. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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