For an artist that has effectively deployed so many different musical genres in her work, Dawn Richard has been surprisingly capable of defining her own recognisable sound. Partly this is due to her voice – which is sometimes morphed with autotune and effects but just as often left unadorned – a yearning and elegant vocal that sounds like no other.
It’s a combination of this and Richard’s ability to make music that is also cohesive however disparate the ingredients. ‘Sauce’, for example, which is co-produced by Hudson Mohawke, has nothing about it that suggests it’s anything other than a quality Dawn Richard tune, such is her ability to collaborate whilst not passively surrendering to a big name, studio whizz-kid’s sign-off.
New Breed is in many ways a departure for Dawn Richard and is her first album since the Heart trilogy that began in 2013 and ended with 2016’s Redemption. Where those records referenced Greek mythology and science fiction whilst establishing a particular lyrical and sonic mood to each of the three albums, New Breed is set in the here and now and is Richard’s most conventional R&B record.
Conventional for Dawn Richard, however, is still some distance from the mainstream. Swapping her more electronic and experimental soundscapes for contemporary lovers rock (‘Jealousy’) and funk (‘Shades’) may sound like a lazy route for Richard to take but that would be underestimating her ability to rejuvenate and radicalise pre-existing genres.
Whilst less aggressively conceptual than the Heart trilogy, New Breed is very much built around the idea of a fixed narrative and in this instance Richard has written a love letter to her native New Orleans. There are recorded interludes with locals and some from Richard herself which reinforce her crusade to allow an artist existence and success outside of their expected genre.
On the a cappella second-part of the balladic highlight ‘Vulture/Wolves’, Richard recounts experiences and shares vivid warnings of industry men: ‘They show their teeth like white pearls coated with meat, / From all the girls they’d like to eat.’
The retro, thumping soul of ‘We, Diamonds’ is its optimistic counterpart: ‘We rough around the edges but don’t mean we ain’t diamonds.’
Unlike her previous albums that all ran well over 60 minutes, New Breed is a concise 10-song affair and when the woozy, spare and strange ‘Ketchup and Po’Boys’ brings the album to a close, it feels too early, such as is the craving for more. Dawn Richard has become the master of her idiosyncratic sound, a true one-off who creates what she loves and her now considerable discography stands tall, gleaming with audacious originality.