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Although Lion Babe have just unleashed their first and eagerly anticipated long player today, it feels like we’ve been giddily grooving to their alluring, heart-pumping brand of electro-soul-pop for years now. Well, because we have.
Since the 2012 release of their insanely addictive “Treat Me Like Fire,” the charismatic NYC-based duo of vocalist Jillian Hervey and multi-instrumentalist Lucas Goodman have blessed the world with four more—count ‘em, four more—sublime singles, all of which are included on their debut LP Begin. Oh, and lest we forget “Hourglass,” their sparkling collaboration with Disclosure, from the UK house duo’s stellar sophomore effort Caracal.
Now customarily, if a group releases five singles before their album hits stores, you would be forgiven for assuming that the other tracks that round out the album are destined to pale in comparison, conspiring to drag the album down ever closer to mediocrity. However, in the case of Lion Babe’s stunning Begin, you would be mistaken. So very, very mistaken.
Don’t let their enviable status as media darlings or their undeniable penchant for the fashionable fool you. At their core, Hervey and Goodman’s surface aesthetics are of purely secondary importance. What they’re truly great at, above and beyond all else, is crafting soul-shaking, spirit-raising songs that stick with you long after the final notes fade out.
As Hervey explained to SPIN last year, “I don’t think either of us identify as pop stars, and we’re not trying to be pop stars. But when we think about music in general, there’s always those moments in songs that you just want to sing over and over again. For us, it all starts at a hook, at a catchy moment, and that’s kind of where we build from.” Indeed, the pair’s songs summon their strength and stamina from the natural connection between Hervey’s versatile, multi-faceted voice and Goodman’s inventive soundscapes, which form an irresistible combination.
Begin’s obvious standouts are the slinky late-night soul of “Treat Me Like Fire,” the Pharrell enabled funk of “Wonder Woman,” the Childish Gambino supported bounce of “Jump Hi,” and the disco-era dancefloor hedonism of “Where Do We Go.” Within the broader context of the full album, these previously released tracks, quite remarkably, lose none of their luster and instead shine brighter than ever before.
Among the newly unveiled material, highlights abound. Boasting crunchy snares in abundance, album opener “Whole,” is a grand take-me-as-I-am statement of purpose, which finds Hervey admonishing her judgmental lover to tread more carefully with her emotions, warning “You know you're not bringing out the best of me / I think you need to watch yourself.” On the yearning, shimmering “Satisfy My Love,” a vulnerable Hervey wonders if the object of her affection has what it takes to fulfill her desires and dreams.
The propulsive, hypnotic “On the Rocks” boasts a chorus (“I like it straight, like it smooth, on the rocks, baby”) that you won’t be able to shake from your mind, no matter how hard you try. “Jungle Lady” takes the tempo down a few notches and captures Hervey in her most unabashedly seductive, come-hither mode.
Awash in fuzzed-out, shoegaze-indebted guitar licks, album closing lullaby “Little Dreamer” is a sweet ode to never relinquishing the unfettered innocence of wide-eyed youth, with Hervey confessing that “I still run with the lost boys / I still look for mermaids / And I hear the moon at night / Talk to the trees.” Parents in dire need of fresh songs to sing to their children as they tuck them in to bed each night would be well-advised to add this terrific tune to their bedtime repertoire.
Pulling off the ultra-rare feat of infusing leftfield sensibilities to craft universally accessible tunes, Begin is contemporary pop perfection infused with an unapologetically adventurous spirit. In simpler terms, Lion Babe’s debut is an incredible record. Though we’re still in the early days of 2016, the competition for album of the year honors now has an early frontrunner, one that will likely prove tough to eclipse as the year progresses.