On Georgia Barnes’ self-produced breakthrough, 2020’s Seeking Thrills, the UK singer and producer embraced a ramshackle approach to synthpop and house music. The album washed her voice in effects and scaffolded hooks in clattering, unpredictable production, netting her a Mercury Prize nomination and establishing her as an up-and-comer in a crowded pop field. On her follow-up, Euphoric, Georgia chose to expand her circle, working with former Vampire Weekend member and indie pop producer Rostam to try on a new sound. Introducing acoustic instrumentation and unvarnished vocals, Euphoric takes an overly safe approach to themes of growth and companionship, largely sanding down Georgia’s steelier, more idiosyncratic production.
Georgia and Rostam first linked up in 2019 by way of Mura Masa, who tapped the singer for his winding club track “Live Like We’re Dancing”; after hearing the song, Rostam quickly reached out via DM to work with her. It’s a combination that works well on paper: Rostam’s effervescent, ’80s-influenced production style has brought about wonders for established pop stars and indie wunderkinds alike. But on Euphoric, the team-up brings forth hit-or-miss arrangements that lose Georgia in the mix. For each tuneful dance workout like standout “Some Things You’ll Never Know,” which ramps up to an prismatic, corkscrewing drop halfway through, there’s an overdressed song like “All Night,” whose garish chorus of widescreen synths induces an instant headache. Some songs just never seem to reach a clear destination: The nervy, muscular electric guitar melody that winds throughout “The Dream” treads water until the song fizzles out.
The expanded instrumentation occasionally works in Georgia’s favor, typically when she branches her percussion out beyond the usual kit and programmed drums. On the late highlight “Keep On,” gentle congas and mellotron open up a peaceful, laidback sound that shapeshifts into a sitar solo and speaker-shaking climax. During “Give It Up for Love,” Georgia dials into a similarly easygoing groove inspired by William Orbit’s spacey, acoustic-driven electronica on Madonna’s Ray of Light. It’s a touchstone you wish Georgia would reach to more often on Euphoric, providing a shimmery, expressive backdrop for her soaring voice.
Georgia’s willingness to experiment is promising, but it’s unfortunate that Euphoric takes such a predominantly safe journey. As on Seeking Thrills, some songs also succumb to vague lyrics that resemble placeholders. “Why do I feel my face /Crumbling all over the place?” she asks on “Friends Will Never Let You Go,” an ode to complicated friendships that quickly gets tied up in a self-conscious jumble. She finds more success on the title track, balancing a simple sentiment of adoration (“It’s euphoric when you’re next to me”) with more specific, grounded relationship details, like meeting up in Regent’s Park and feeling too shy to speak her true feelings. Set to a loping guitar melody and a pulsing blend of congas and 808s, the song promises an album of chilled-out, deeply felt bangers that Georgia doesn’t quite deliver.
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