Thursday, October 4, 2018

A Good Girl | Ralph

When she began her career in pop music, Canadian singer-songwriter Ralph used social media to describe herself as the lovechild of Sade, Stevie Nicks, and Donna Summer. Last year, she legitimized her supercharged self-portrait with a cover of disco classic "Young Hearts Run Free" and her eponymous extended play, an impressive introductory set with a backbone of warm, slinky synthesizers and light dance beats. Now, she works to formalize an identity sans comparative footnotes on her debut record, A Good Girl.

With straightforward lyrics, glistening beats, and a personable singer at the microphone, the record joins a few other gems in proving that pop music doesn't have to be immature to be inoffensive. Listening like an everyday chat about love and loss, it is conversational but unexpectedly emotive. The record’s opening track is upfront: "If you don’t love yourself, how the hell you going to love someone else?" she asks on "For Yourself." Elsewhere, she shares feelings and stories without belaboring them, from questioning whether a love interest is no more than a summer fling ("Weather") to grabbing that fling’s hand and heading to the bedroom ("Bedroom Eyes").

Songs like "Long Distance Lover" and "Girl Next Door," perhaps the most contemporary on this set, prove Ralph has her finger on the pulse of today's pop music, but her vintage sensibilities prevail as her music's driving force: She mocks primitive synthesizers and softens modern beats for a sense of timelessness, even with disco embraced as the bubbly undertone of many tracks. In its most unabashed appearances, sparkling disco beats are used as fuel to ignite "Weather" and "Gimme" as they light up the dance floor. (And with Ralph having released A Good Girl the same day Cher dropped her ABBA cover album, I'd say disco has been fully resurrected between the two.)

Lodging Ralph somewhere between Britney and Fergie, "Gimme" joins the ranks of the alphabetical greats. She dances through a sugar-sweet melody as she tells us that she's been "P-A-T-I-E-N-T" to get all of somebody's honey. Displayed as she swoops and soars on the stellar “September Fades" and makes smooth vocal moves on "Long Distance Lover,” the craftsmanship of her hooks is so uncanny that it doesn’t quite matter that she uses her melodies as vehicles to spell out the word "patient" or to cry into her bowl of cereal. I mean, who would have thought "Cereal" (which features Canadian duo Milk & Bone, no less) would be a hypnotizing mid-tempo track?

Like that summer fling that she memorializes on "Weather," Ralph's debut record is a short little heatwave. Almost all of them lasting roughly three minutes or less, the 10 tracks on the record are quick (but potent) hits of pure pop without complications, straight to the jugular. They take pop back to the basics, spared of flashy production and heavy lyrical baggage so they can entertain at face value. And with a record that is so effortlessly infectious and charismatic, Ralph proves to be a star in her own right – even if she swears she’s going to remain just the girl next door.

A Good Girl is available now under 604 Records.

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