Bass music has been the source of some pretty fierce, sometimes ugly debates centering on the binary choice of whether dubstep’s talent lies with the esoteric, atmospheric producers like Burial, or whether it’s best left to party rockers like Skrillex or Rusko. To indicate that there’s a “right” answer is at best arrogant, and at worst, condescending, though I can’t help but state a preference for the more nuanced sounds of the former. And yet, to hear Burial mangle ’90s R&B samples into barely recognizable ghost chirps nonetheless leaves the door open for an artist to make connection between dubstep, pop and R&B in a more organic way. So as luck would have it, in 2011, a young Londoner named Katy B came along and did just that with debut album On A Mission, bridging bass and dance pop better than anyone beforehand, and giving dubstep its first real top-billing pop diva.
On A Mission is most steeped in deep, throbbing bass production, beat wobble, some warm and fuzzy touches of jungle, and a soulful spark that seems to balance a rich songwriting style with an unrelenting source of energy. But first and foremost, this is a pop album, and one loaded up to the ceiling with five-star jams. One such standout single, “Katy on a Mission,” contains everything one would likely ask for in a pop-step hybrid: skipping beats, a voice that could steam up the Sahara, and an ample supply of playful hooks. The more straightforward jungle-pop of “Witches Brew” removes some of “Mission”‘s cosmic depth, but nonetheless takes it into an equally engaging realm that’s only slightly witchy, but certainly bewitching. Yet the highest peak is “Broken Record,” both a showcase for Geeneus’ mesmerizing garage production and Katy’s own chill-inducing vocals.
While Katy B may have a slightly higher hill to climb in order to become a household name in the United States, her talent and songs are more than strong enough. On a Mission does bass right in a stunning balance of innovation and accessibility, and while the drops are there if you’re looking for them, it offers a world of variety and fun well beyond that.
Magnetic Man – Magnetic Man
Robyn – Body Talk Pt. 1
Jamie Woon – Mirrorwriting
Video: Katy B – “Katy On a Mission”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.