Reviewed by: Ziggy Merritt
Beginning with what might as well be the entirety of the Drive soundtrack, the sound and emotion of retro-wave has culled from me a curious fascination with what is likely no longer a niche genre. Combining italo disco, vintage synthesizers, and a filmic fascination with the late ’70s and ’80s, the broadness of the genre ultimately plants its roots in feel-good nostalgia. It has developed itself further through cult films ranging from the synth paradise in Turbo Kid to the minimalist sound of the John Carpenter-era throwback, It Follows. The latest self-titled EP from self-styled “alt-pop” songstress, Jacque Ryal appears to pick up on a few of these trends while remaining perhaps too tightly bound to the realm of disco.
With lyrics drenched in nightlife, lust, and longing, this album is at its best when it expands its production to fit those qualities. In particular the opener, “I Only Want One Thing” feels much too manufactured and detached from the vintage sound that follows it to accomplish anything meaningful by the time the last beat drops. Its saving grace is found in Ryal’s vocals, which come somewhere in between Debbie Harry and Glass Candy’s Ida No. Her flexibility and range is better expressed in the tracks that follow this, particularly alongside the prominent synth line of “Jill.” Easily the most expressive number here, “Jill”’s strength is found in the layers of plucky synthesizers and minimal percussion found between Ryal’s vocals and disco base.
“City Lives” and “Wish” do well to pick up where “Jill” left off, yet do not quite reach that same height. “City Lives” is decidedly darker with pulsating percussion and bass that pair well with Ryal’s lower register of vocals, while the radio-friendly sound of “Wish” is kept fresh by the riff of the guitar line. Trending back toward the moodier stylings of “City Lives”, the closer of “Lonely Love” is enough to keep me interested, yet lacks the focus and shine of its predecessors.
What the album lacks is a willingness to go beyond the staples of its production and explore some of its more engaging elements. There’s kernels of brilliance inside of this EP, yet too often it remains entrenched inside of the mixed bag that is retro-wave. But in that same fashion, this album can be seen as the next step for an artist still in the midst of finding her voice.