Dungeonesse

Dungeonesse

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In 2013, a ton of indie groups mined the fertile ground of R&B for inspiration, and many of them did a nice job capturing the feel of the style, while doing weird things to it. Dungeonesse, made up of vocalist Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak and Jon Ehrens of Art Department, is one of them, though they take a more straightforward approach. Most of the songs wouldn't sound too out of place on a Mtume record or as a Teena Marie B-side. Totally on a Miguel album. The duo sticks mostly to a late-night, melancholy mood, adding plenty of atmospheric synth washes and reverb to the ballads and a healthy amount of skittering percussion and rubbery funk to the more uptempo tracks. Ehrens is a very skilled producer, creating tightly wound tracks that are in the R&B tradition but also a little dubby. Even kind of spacy at times. Wasner proved in Wye Oak that she could sing the hell out of indie rock; she does the same here with alt-R&B. Her deep and rich vocals are the focal point of the songs and she carries them with ease, imbuing the grooves with tons of real emotion and loads of non-showy power. She digs deep into the midtempo tracks like "Nightlight" and "Anywhere You Are" and really puts them across with no frills or wasted feeling. She rides the more uptempo grooves with a light touch, and they are the most easy-to-digest moments on the record. "This Could Be Home" has all the bounce and sass of a Mariah Carey hit (and a fun rap interlude from TT the Artist) and the swaggering hip-hop-tough "Cadillac" is a real jam. Ehrens, too, shines on these tracks. The rubbery Tom Tom Club-style bottom on "Shucks" is brilliant and the low-budget freestyle synths matched with hip-house beats on "Soon" is too. While it is a bit of an outlier among the moodier songs, the upbeat and ferociously sunny "Drive You Crazy" is the finest moment on Dungeonesse. The insistent beats, jagged bass pops, and shiny synths meet Wasner's achingly sweet and light vocals in an explosion of dance-pop perfection. It may stand out as the "single" but it's not far ahead; the rest is just as entertaining, well-crafted, and assured. Wasner and Ehrens have made an album that honors their devotion to R&B and dance music in the best way possible, with love, respect, and a bunch of memorable jams.

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