For Prestige, their third album, London indie trio Girl Ray dabble in the art of the concept album. The idea emerged as singer-guitarist Poppy Hankin, bassist Sophie Moss, and drummer Iris McConnell were crammed in a bus on a post-Brexit tour of Europe at the start of 2020. Hankin had just binged Pose, the FX drama about New York City ballroom culture, and she began recording demos inspired by its soundtrack to battle her malaise and distract herself from her faraway girlfriend. As she sketched out each song, Hankin imagined them blaring at an imaginary nightclub called Prestige. Girl Ray are the house band of this fantasy locale, pumping out nu disco until dawn.

Beyond the immediate influence of Pose, Prestige is steeped in the current disco-pop resurgence, steering Girl Ray away from their twee roots and new-wave experiments. Roused by the music of Jessie Ware and Róisín Murphy, as well as Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, Hankin penned hi-def tracks stacked with twangy bass and prickly, Chic-like guitar. Falling in love was another catalyst for Hankin’s newfound poptimism, and the lyrics are all wine and roses—joyous, but terminally cliche at times. On the mid-tempo “Give Me Your Love,” Hankin recalls “Searching for your hand/Walking in the sand,” while on “Love Is Enough,” she spills out this couplet: “Time will tell my love/On the wings of a dove.” Three songs contain “love” in the title, lit up like a marquee, and the word is uttered some two-dozen times across the album’s 42 minutes. Fortunately, Hankin’s breathy, droning voice helps divert from the Hallmark language, as does her melodic expertise.

Each track is sparkling and memorable, and likely to lodge itself in your hippocampus. Playing “True Love” at top volume feels like whirling around a roller disco, where hot pants and synchronized clapping are mandatory. A liquid Moog solo from Mark Bencuya twists and turns like Mountain Dew coursing through a curly straw, a sweet and slick finish to the bubbly tune. The ’70s-flavored pop cut “Easy” takes a cue from Warren Zevon, pairing brightly pulsing piano with bulbous bass and spare drumkit a la “Werewolves of London.” Hankin wrote the song on a trip to New York, where she wandered the streets solo and shot billiards. On “Hold Tight,” Hankin’s foggy tenor floats over congas and Wurlitzer as she asks her crush to “get a Coke and sit on the wall.”

Hankin has said she’s more accustomed to writing about unrequited romance, which might be why her happiest songs can verge on treacly. But on “Tell Me,” she wades back into familiar waters. The song is spring-loaded with funk bass and soars on a falsetto chorus soft as feathered hair. “Baby fill my cup,” she pleads, adding, “reading your mind is like foreign TV.” Hankin wrote the track with producer Ben H. Allen, and the pair chose to focus on a withholding partner—a theme that contrasts with Prestige’s abiding air of bliss. The synth-driven “Begging You Now” is another rare case. Hankin admits to getting “jealous fevers,” and hints at codependent behavior. It’s a refreshing dose of reality on a record crammed with sunshine melodies and candy-heart prose.

Just as many of Prestige’s love-inspired songs bleed together thematically, a good chunk of its tracks sound awfully similar, and that can be a problem. “True Love,” “Up,” “Everybody’s Saying That,” and “Love Is Enough” bob to the same Chic formula: skanking guitar, twangy bass, canned strings. It’s a solid formula, but the textural sameness makes more idiosyncratic tracks like “Give Me Your Love” stand out. The song was recorded with Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard and Al Doyle, who let Girl Ray ransack their studio toys and tinker with a vocoder. They adorned the song with steel drums and hand bells, layering in robot vocals and synth arpeggios. It’s a fruitful collaboration, one that nudges Girl Ray out of their comfort zone. At Club Prestige, even the house band needs to shake up their setlist to keep people dancing.

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Girl Ray: Prestige