Katy B – On A Mission | Album Review

Despite being hailed by the mainstream press as the “princess of Dubstep” when she first entered the charts nearly a year ago, Kathleen “Katy B” Brien’s subsequent rise to prominence suggests an artist inclined towards longevity far greater than the average fresh-faced dance music vocalist. A BRIT School graduate with a Popular Music degree from Goldsmiths, the singer-songwriter featured on DJ NG’s “Tell Me”, an underground Funky House smash, back in 2008 and was part of vibrant Brixton-based Hip Hop band The Illersapiens.

Her debut single, “Katy On A Mission,” released independently by label Rinse, took radio and clubs by storm and hit #5 in the UK charts, gaining the nation’s attention in the process. She followed this outstanding achievement by signing a major label deal with Colombia, releasing two more solo singles, both vastly different from her debut, and featuring on Magnetic Man’s Top 20 hit “Perfect Stranger.” Her consistent excellence and constant presence in the charts meant that Brien’s debut album, On A Mission, was one of the most hotly anticipated of 2011.

On A Mission represents the natural (and desirable) evolution of British “Urban”-Dance music (the staple of pirate radio station – and now record label – Rinse FM) into a commercially viable but still artistically meritorious form. The tasteful blend of Dubstep, House, UK Funky and even Garage beats keep her culturally relevant, but it’s Brien’s ability to craft real, structured songs on top of those instrumentals that makes her so valuable. She is, first and foremost, a singer-songwriter and though the beat selection on this album is outstanding, the contributions from her all-star production castlist never overwhelm her tales of London nightlife, nor the sweet vocals and haunting melodies that carry them.

Musical tales from “The Club” are hardly in short supply these days, but what makes On A Mission so refreshing is its authenticity. This is partly a result of the production, which conjures images of sweaty London dancefloors rather than European moustaches and/or Austrian nuns (I’ve never heard “The Sound Of Music” in a club, but I’ve heard a lot of Benga, Skream, Geeneus and Zinc).

It isn’t all down to the beats though – on “Katy On A Mission” for example, Brien successfully captures the raw energy of raving, minus the contrived clubbing clichés typical in current pop music. “Perfect Stranger” describes meeting somebody in a club – hardly fresh ground – but here the experience is elevated onto an almost spiritual plane.

Whilst the album is almost entirely dancefloor-friendly, the songs themselves aren’t all based in nightclubs. “Go Away”, one of the album’s standout tracks, tells of an ill-fated romance as Brien begs her partner to leave. “Movement” is a plea for communication from a lover who would rather remain silent, his inner darkness hanging over the relationship. Album opener “Power On Me” describes the subconscious hold that a lover has over her, something she resents slightly yet welcome, singing “that’s the only way I want you to feel with me.”

Whether recalling nights out with her friends, cheesy chat-up lines or broken relationships, Katy B’s debut album is unerringly excellent: a perfect marriage of world-class production with refreshingly relevant songwriting devoid of frustrating truisms. And, although it seems an afterthought, Brien is an excellent singer, with vocals that dance between the alluring and the achingly evocative throughout.

On A Mission is an outstanding body of work which will one day serve as an almanac for homegrown Dance music in 2011. Until then, it will have to settle for being a genre-defining debut from a top-tier artist who, irrespective of the scene in which she operates, looks destined for a bright future.

Katy B – On A Mission
Released: April 1, 2011
Label: Sony
Buy: iTunes UK / Amazon UK

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