The steady trickle of the xx-inspired minimalism continues to drop into the bucket of pop, this time in the form of Vancouver duo Ladyfrnd. Their self-titled debut is an effort of restraint; Peter Ricq’s role as producer is all about the removal of unnecessary sounds behind Yuki Holland’s silky-smooth vocals.
Between the beats of each track — mostly big-bass thumps and drum machine snare hits caked in ’80s stadium reverb — Ricq’s synthwork provides a steady, if predictable, environment of rhythm-based bleeps and bloops with which to contain Holland’s lyrical prowess.
Smooth is the word, with the washy echo on each key hit tailored to avoid drawing too much attention to itself. The instrumentation is necessarily sparse, in the likeness of Chromatics, putting big pressure on Holland’s voice to provide the momentum for most songs.
Standout track “Home” shows off Holland’s buttery-soft delivery next to sharp piano melodies. The obvious R&B and lounge influences churn up a song full of simple meaning and plain speaking masked in a sea of cabaret haze, with a tranquilizing effect. The vocal back-and-forth between the duo ending the song is one of the most perfectly sombre outros in recent pop memory.
The nine original songs on Ladyfrnd are accompanied with three remixes. Unfortunately, the DJ tracks are largely fluff, failing to alter Ladyfrnd’s original sounds into something obviously new or strikingly different. While Humans give their very best by adding some refreshing treble onto “Un Petit Message,” that each remix is confined within a forced minimalism is frustrating. While a really bizarre or stylized alteration might have been an interesting risk (Justice covering Death From Above 1979, anyone?), this trio of songs plays it safe and ends up feeling pretty safe, too.