With her solo debut, AlunaGeorge’s Aluna Francis explores dance music in many forms—pop-house, dancehall, funk, Caribbean and African dance—as a personal refuge and an industry corrective.
AlunaGeorge, the British duo of vocalist Aluna Francis and producer George Reid, never quite got massive, but they did get everywhere. British audiences may know the group best from “White Noise”—Disclosure’s biggest UK hit. Others might remember the glitchy Timbaland homages on 2013’s Body Music, an early revival of now-ubiquitous Y2K pop. If all this genre-shifting made AlunaGeorge a little amorphous as a group, it did mean they got plenty of work. “You could give us one week and we’d do 10 songs,” Francis told Vulture. “Any genre—we’ll just knock them out.”
Between the knockouts, though, brewed increasing frustration with the dance music industry, coming to a head with a bracing manifesto on Francis’s Instagram. Sometimes there’s blatant exploitation; last year, Francis accused a producer outside the group of sexual assault. But it’s often subtler. Dance producers, disproportionately men, often become mega-paid stars, while dance singer-songwriters, disproportionately women, get second billing—or none, made into modern-day Martha Washes. Wash, of course, is Black, and that dynamic also persists: The most successful dance stars tend to be white, with Black artists showing up in interpolations, uncredited samples, pastiches, or plagiarism, but less often in person or pay. Francis knows it well; though many AlunaGeorge features were basically solo Aluna features, and though Reid was often offstage at AlunaGeorge sets, for years she hesitated to go officially solo. “I knew that, as a Black woman alone, I was going to get chewed up,” she said.
On Renaissance, Francis aims to disprove that. The album showcases her curatorial skills—honed from years of DJ sets, streaming playlists, and recently virtual shows as Aluna’s Room—and her range. Maybe as a challenge, Renaissance neither starts nor ends with dance music. The opener, “I’ve Been Starting to Love All the Things I Hate,” is less a product of the club queue than the away message; slow jam “Whistle” unspools a drowsy vocal and sumptuous synth-violin solo. In between is proper dance in many forms: pop-house, dancehall, funk, Caribbean and African dance, and only occasionally R&B, in TLC homage “Sneak.” She’s an excellent curator of features, too: On Mr. Vegas-interpolating “Get Paid,” Aluna cedes the floor to rapper Princess Nokia and Jamaican songwriter Jada Kingdom in assured form, and “The Recipe” pairs Aluna’s ability to channel earnestness with a small fluting note with Kaytranada’s ability to wring wistfulness out of a small chord change.
Francis describes Aluna’s Room as “an introvert’s palace of escape,” and likewise, Renaissance was written for the inner headspace as much as the dancefloor—convenient in a year where those are empty. “Don’t Hit My Line” hammers exes back into the woodwork to a four-to-the-floor beat, but complicates itself: percussion interludes and Francis’s staccato vocal turn the beat polyrhythmic, and the melody leans hard into “I think of you,” like a “New Rules” by someone not totally ready to let go of the old. And lead single “Body Pump,” written with Josh Lloyd-Watson of Jungle, is built like a house-diva showcase, from the torchy first verse to the drop to the triumphant close. But there’s a scrappiness to it, in the froth of handclaps on the bridge—a studio accident, left in—and the way Aluna pushes her voice into the red, frayed and vulnerable. It’s decidedly human, just the thing to play in a “palace of escape”—or at least in one of its many vibrant rooms.
Buy: Rough Trade
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