Album Preview – D∆WN, ‘Redemption’

Written by
By Lars Godrich

D∆WN’s new album, Redemption, comes out Nov. 18.

Rob Daly/Courtesy of the artist

There was no room to move, yet the room moved. We found open spaces to jump and gyrate, enraptured not only by the pulsing future-club music, but also by its maker. Just before an ambitious run of gigs during SXSW, Dawn Richard — who records under the name D∆WN — was our body-music guru in a small Washington, D.C., venue. She sang hard, danced harder and partied hardest with an already-ecstatic crowd; she achieved goddess status from her radiant energy alone. But that’s Dawn Richard’s standard operating procedure: Take it all, and bring everyone with her.

D∆WN, Redemption.

Courtesy of the artist

With Redemption, D∆WN closes an album trilogy that encompasses a wild and weird spectrum of R&B, pop, electronic and dance music. But in a field that’s seen more experimental sounds embraced by the mainstream (from Kanye West‘s noisy Yeezus to PC Music’s alien EDM), she stands apart not only for her abstract production, but also as a black woman who makes challenging pop music with soul. It’s quite a leap from her time in the MTV-made Danity Kane, but as she’s asserted herself as an independent artist, that creative freedom has driven every aspect of her career. As a singer, songwriter, producer, entertainer, set designer and animator, D∆WN owns her creativity, drawing a line through Afro-futurists like Sun Ra, Larry Heard and Erykah Badu.

Where last year’s Blackheart was beautiful and bleak in its genre ambiguity, Redemption is defiant in its celebration of the self. As Richard told NPR in June, “Whatever or whoever you are, be proud of it — that this would be our redemption. To go into this era hands up and heads high.” That celebration exists not just in the rave-worthy cuts, but also in how Richard encourages open conversation about sex-positivity and consent (the glowstick anthem “Love Under Lights,” featuring an outro that chops woozy vaporwave with street percussion), desire (the hyper, brassy “Renegades” and the slinky and string-laden, proggy slow jam “The Louvre”) and the limitations of labels (the underwater Sade smoothness of “Sands”). Machinedrum, who co-produced this year’s non-album singles “Not Above That” and “Wake Up,” continues to be Richard’s sonic ally in tracks like these — and, like a good accompanist, knows when to hype up the drama and when to hold back, always in line with D∆WN’s vision.