Pale Queen by Rhi – Album Review
By David Schuster
Rhiannon Bouvier’s voice, warm and mesmerising as dark chocolate laced with rum, swirls over and around laid-back hip-hop rhythms to create a distinctive, signature sound. Pale Queen, the second album from the Canadian singer-songwriter, would be ideal to have on your headphones as you doze away the afternoon on an Ibiza beach.
The opening track ‘Plain Jane’ sets the mood for the whole; frank and open self-reflective lyrics accompanying dub-influenced beats, heavy with reverb, and interesting samples dropped in here and there. Rhi has a great ear for sonic nuances and across the record there are fey bar chimes, the rattle of a quijada and sleigh bells, eclectic yet fitting.
“Something uniquely her own”
The lot of the solo musician is a difficult one, not having other band members to bounce ideas off and help to craft the seeds of ideas into fully fledged songs must be isolating at times. More so for Rhi, who also produces her own albums. However, she has quietly crafted something uniquely her own. Her ingredients are simple; a strong beat, high in the mix, dreamlike vocals and sustained background chords holding it all together. But, like the best recipes, the end result surpasses the sum of the components, drawing you into its mesmeric embrace.
Bouvier’s voice has a soothing late-night club sound, across the same musical territory as Grimes, Sade and Grace Jones. Indeed ‘Swagger’, with its ironic focus on the world of modelling, could have been written about Jones. “Catwalk chic, walk the walk, move your hips. You can talk without your lips.”
There’s a central problem to this album though; with no shading of pace or mood, each perfectly crafted track blending into the last. The vocal delivery is downbeat to the point where emotion is lost. Thus, the cry-for-help self-harming lyrics of ‘Running with Scissors’ are delivered in the same tone as the desperate, hopeless allure of ‘The Tempter’. Without the passion that makes you empathise with the singer, these just become reported observations of emotion. The drums too become intrusive; if the beat is to the fore it draws the attention. It would add sophistication and interest to use a mix of acoustic drums, mix with the electronic.
I was genuinely torn writing this review, loving individual songs, but not the record as a whole. I’m not surprised that the likes of Lauren Laverne, Creys Matthews and Tom Ravenscroft have been quick to praise the singles ‘Swagger’ and ‘Plain Jane’ – they are fabulous, but just like dark chocolate laced with rum, it’s easy to have too much of a good thing.
Put a couple of tracks into your favourite chill-out playlist.