Katy B

On a Mission

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The increasingly ubiquitous dubstep sound may have originated from as far back as the late '90s, but it's taken over a decade to produce its first genuine pop star capable of competing in the charts with the likes of Rihanna, Britney Spears, and Kesha, all of whom have incorporated its wobbling basslines and sparse, syncopated rhythms into their recent material. South Londoner Katy B, a by-product of the Brits School which spawned Adele, Leona Lewis, and Kate Nash, is just that artist. Bursting onto the scene in mid-2010 with her Benga-produced debut Top Five single "Katy on a Mission," a hypnotic blend of buzzing synths, chunky beats, and soulful, cooing hooks, the Goldsmiths College graduate could have joined the plethora of one-hit wonders the dance scene produces every year. But instead, she's created an album which could do for dubstep what Craig David did for garage, Dizzee Rascal did for grime, and what Ms. Dynamite did for British hip-hop. Incidentally, the latter turns up on the club banger "Lights On," a sassy synth-led dub-pop ode to the joys of dancing as the night ends, in an affectionate nod to her musical heritage. But even though there are echoes of trip-hop ("Go Away"), jungle ("Disappear"), and even acid-jazz ("Hard to Get"), On a Mission's 12 tracks, largely produced by Rinse FM boss Geeneus, are firmly focused on the here and now rather than the club sounds of yesteryear. "Witches Brew" is an intoxicating fusion of kaleidoscopic synths, blistering breakbeats and Katy's neo-soulful tones, which seductively purr lyrics like "I'll open this book and blow the dust/off these pages of desire and lust," detailing how she will cast a spell to get her man; "Perfect Stranger" is a gorgeous collaboration with Magnetic Man which combines the supergroup's spacious skittering production with a vulnerable vocal rarely showcased among her club-friendly peers; while best of all is "Broken Record," which kicks off with some pounding techno riffs before merging into a heart-rending slice of drum'n'bass balladry where Katy sounds uncannily like original Sugababe Siobhan Donaghy. Indeed, much of On a Mission recalls the sassy, streetwise, urban dance-pop of Sugababes' effortlessly cool debut One Touch, and you get the feeling that if they'd stuck with the same lineup instead of imploding every couple of years, this would be the kind of record they would now be making. Free from the retro samples that dominate most recent club anthems, and the filler which pervades most commercial dance albums, On a Mission is a strikingly self-assured and original affair which not only convincingly captures the sound of contemporary London nightlife, but also reflects the voices of much of her late-teens/early-twenties generation. If she can avoid the "trying to sound American" and "over-bearing lyrical preaching" mistakes of her pioneering U.K. urban predecessors, there's no reason why On a Mission can't be the start of a fruitful and glittering career.

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