To a newcomer discovering SG Lewis’ music—on a Spotify-curated playlist called “Serotonin,” in a YouTube DJ set where he bobs his head in an empty studio for an hour—the 26-year-old singer and producer might appear to be a blithe trendhopper, poised to capitalize on the nu-disco renaissance shimmying through pop. His funk-flecked house tracks fit right in with Dua Lipa’s slick ’80s basslines and the Weeknd’s retro glitz, Jessie Ware and Kylie Minogue’s strobe-lit resurgences. But Lewis has braided disco into dance music for years. In 2014, he signed to the same label as Ware, PMR, after remixing one of her songs. Since then, his flickering singles and trio of concept EPs have revolved around obvious, easy themes: We’re young, dancing’s fun, tonight is all we have.
His full-length debut, Times, arrives nearly a year after most clubs closed, when the minutiae of what used to be a normal night out have taken on a kind of reverence. In the blank expanse of quarantine, music made for dancefloors becomes a eulogy and a prayer, an act of mourning and a symbol of hope. Times is compact and glossy, competent and earnest. The first song opens with a muffled declaration about the power of house music: “There was harmony in the music, there was harmony in the behavior of the people, and we had a good time.” Lewis rejoices in the mundanity of nightlife with surprising tenderness and grace.
His influences are blatant—the burble and glide of labelmates Disclosure, the packaged funk of the Neptunes—and sometimes homage slips into imitation. The bassline at the start of “Chemicals” is a dead ringer for Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” and it lingers long enough to miss the source material. Once the track unfolds, though, it reveals more: glittering snarls of synths, an intricate layer of strings in the background. “I might be seeing double, but I need you both,” Lewis croons, wrenching intimacy out of drunk desperation. “Time” builds off a Dennis Edwards sample, sliced and warped as Rhye writhes his voice over the tingling beat.
Nile Rodgers stops by for a kinetic blast of guitar on “One More,” a glistening ode to party flirting and the best track on the album. Lewis distorts and layers his vocals, smearing them over cinematic synths and a twirling drum pattern. He focuses on the tiny, fleeting choices that stitch together a night: a cigarette on the balcony, a move to another bar. “I know you’ve got friends in the bathroom stall,” he sings, pleading. “Can we just stay here for one more song?”
Small production details propel these songs. “FeedTheFire,” a shuffling, insistent track Lewis wrote the same day he helped produce Dua Lipa’s standout “Hallucinate,” features subtle but shimmering strings. The drums throb on “Impact,” a Robyn and Channel Tres duet that twists and reverbs their incandescent harmonies. Even during a mostly forgettable track like “Back to Earth,” the background texture gleams. The clatter and whoops of a crowd or a party are just audible over the thumps and flute, a clever reminder tucked into the drums.
That’s why it’s frustrating when Lewis retreats into safety—the Chainsmokers-esque twinkle of “Heartbreak on the Dancefloor,” or the plodding closing track. Times is a pristine album of frictionless bangers, but these songs are so controlled that they never come close to catharsis. Lewis is clearly an expert student, absorbing and refracting the history of dance and disco with the ache of the present moment. Imagine what he could do if he aimed for the future.
Buy: Rough Trade
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