Mark Ronson called his new album a collection of "sad bangers," and as promised, Late Night Feelings is full of upbeat tracks about heartbreak.
It features an impressive array of musicians, but even the undeniable talent of each singer and Ronson's proven skill—he's fresh from the success of "Uptown Funk" and "Shallow"—can't save the album from its own soullessness.
Late Night Feelings is plagued by issues that taint many producers' similar albums: It feels like each singer popped into the studio, learned the song, recorded it, and left. In this way, it sacrifices each artist's originality in its effort to package them into Ronson's vision. There isn't the cathartic blood-letting that comes from a cohesive album by a single artist or group. Ronson's album is technically perfect, but often, it's not alive.
One of the greatest missed opportunities comes on the three-song set by YEBBA, the extraordinary Arkansas gospel singer who rose to fame after her mind-blowing Sofar Sounds performance. Like Sia on the unfortunate L.S.D. album from a few months ago, YEBBA's raw vocal talent and singular emotiveness can't shine through her producer's zealousness; instead, she's held back by a straitjacket of beats and unnatural vocal lines. Overall, though a great deal of today's best music involves unexpected convergences of very different genres, Ronson's funk infusions don't always mesh with the styles of his featured artists. It's hard to know where some of these songs are supposed to be played—outside of department store aisles.
YEBBA - My Mind | Sofar NYC www.youtube.com
In particular, these issues plague "Late Night Feelings" by Lykki Li and "Find U Again" by Camila Cabello. "Nothing Breaks Like a Heart" by Miley Cyrus and "True Blue" by Angel Olsen are stronger, though they still feel overly processed and a bit insubstantial. None of the tracks on the album are without redeeming qualities: The mesh of orchestral elements and glossy, noirish synths are often elegant and refined. Perhaps it's simply the knowledge that Ronson could have done so much better that makes some of these songs feel stale.
The album finds its footing as it goes on. "Why Hide" featuring Diana Gordon takes a piano motif that's oddly evocative of "Somebody To Lean On" and actually gives Gordon's ethereal vocals their due. Gordon's voice is better suited to the track than some of the other singers', or maybe the track is better suited to her style. Either way, the sultry and cohesive tune allows her emotion to shine through and leaves enough space for its lyrics to simmer and resonate.
"2 AM" by Lykki Li is the best track on the album. Melodic, dreamy, and radiant, listening to the song feels like floating under the surface of a swimming pool for a moment, completely escaping the reality of the world above. Its sultry beat, wrenching lyrics, and comfortingly familiar chord progression make it feel like a classic, perfect for late night smokes or long drives spent watching the sky turn from orange to purple to black.
Mark Ronson - 2 AM (Audio) ft. Lykke Li www.youtube.com
The final track, "Spinning," processes Ilsey's vocals a la Imogen Heap in "Hide and Seek" and places them over a windy synthesizer and a magnetic rhythm. It's beautiful enough to stop the world for a moment. If only all the songs had room to breathe emotion into Late Night Feelings and what it could have been.