Embarking on a night out is a journey. There's always a ritual, starting with scheduling meals in relation to starting to drinking. That's followed by the beautification process, taking over an hour not because you have a lot to do, but because you revel in the transformation. Finally, the marriage of the perfect buzz with an even more perfect song sets the course into the morning. All of this takes place in the clutches of your closest friends with your favorite city as the backdrop.
Those who participate and celebrate growing up in dance clubs appreciate the ingrained traditions and reoccurring characters. Katy B is clearly one of those people, cemented by the release of her sophomore record Little Red.
In a less traditional move, Katy B technically offers three versions of her new album, the follow-up to her critically-acclaimed debut On a Mission. The first is your standard, 12-track affair for the vanilla music lover. Next up is the beefier deluxe edition, featuring five additional songs. The third and final format, while still a bonus track on the deluxe edition, is the entire collection resequenced and blended together into a continuous, one-hour-and-five-minute mix.
Pro-tip: If you haven't heard the record yet, skip the other versions and go straight to this one.
In an era where artists release albums simply to satisfy a recording contract or support a world tour, we should celebrate those who subvert the popular model and curate their songs into exciting, innovative works of art. Katy B's continuous mix of Little Red is much like Madonna's non-stop mix of 2005's Confessions On a Dance Floor in that it doesn't simply fade the songs in and out toward each other, but rather, crafts transitions around various beats, synths, and melodic lines. The result is nebulous music that changes shape and color as one song morphs into the next.
Whereas the original tracklist boosts the most immediate songs upfront, such as bombastic opener "Next Thing," and the icy "5 AM," Little Red in its mixed form recreates the highs of a DJ set by playing with the BPMs like a puppeteer, pulling strings during each song to keep the momentum consistent but never plateauing. Doing so creates the ultimate soundtrack to a Friday or Saturday night, scoring everything from the getting ready portion to the stumble home.
Opening with current single "Crying For No Reason," a piano-led ballad that dips itself in Swedish pop melody and basks in cascading synths, Little Red foreshadows that our protagonist, Katy, will lean on the club culture in which she feels safe to remedy her sadness over a love affair. Along the way, she encounters a woman threatening her man in a duet with Jessie Ware called "Aaliyah." Naming the track after the late R&B icon further underscores the 90s house vibe of the record, as well as Katy's R&B-flavored hooks. It's only now, seven songs into the mix, that the standard opener "Next Thing" rises to the surface. Now, it's not an album opener, but instead a declaration that Katy is ready for the next club, song, or man. And the second song, "5 AM?" Its new placement reveals a song actually taking place at 5 am, featuring lyrics like "I lost my friends / I check my phone," and spotlights our heroine in desperate need of companionship before the club closes.
Further strengthening Little Red's continuos form as the superior version is the fact that the bonus tracks are included in this mix; they're not tacked on at the end and become crucial plot points of the story. For example, "Hot Like Fire" is lost in the shuffle of bonus songs on the deluxe edition, but comparatively acts as a sweaty, frantic encore on the continuos mix. It's like that song you've been wanting the DJ to play all night, maybe without knowing you needed it. The same goes for "Wicked Love," a haunting song with dubstep elements reminiscent of why Katy B gained notoriety during the genres rise to prominence. No longer an afterthought, "Wicked Love" sounds like a temptress' call to prospective lovers under neon lights, and Katy's last, desperate attempt at snagging a new lover.
The end of the night comes with "Still," another downtempo number. It's the perfect bookend to a story that began with a girl crying for no reason over a crumbling relationship, now resolving with the same girl realizing she's still in love. It's the emotional catharsis to the disco tale; the "Closing Time" tune that plays while the club empties and the lights come back on. It's the walk home that goes forever while the sky is light-dark blue and the birds faintly chirp.
Little Red tells a fictional story about redemption on the dance floor, but it's also a shining example of what my friend and Atlantic writer Nolan Feeney dubbed "couture pop." While there will never be a shortage of formulaic, anthemic pop, the records that interpret the genre through a carefully crafted collection of songs are the ones that most reward the listener. There's nothing wrong with an instantly infectious pop song; there's a misconception that those are easy to create, but they still exist as the unicorn in a team of standard workhorses. But when an artist like Katy B delivers an intellectually stimulating, club culture soundtrack like Little Red, it simply deserves the extra spins required to appreciate its mastery.
Little Red (Continuous Mix) Tracklist:
1. Crying For No Reason
2. Sapphire Blue
3. I Like You
5. Tumbling Down
8. Next Thing
9. Blue Eyes
10. 5 AM
11. Sky's The Limit
12. Wicked Love
13. Stay Down
14. All My Lovin'
16. Hot Like Fire