Fusing drum & bass with jazz and R&B, this debut mixtape is funny, vulnerable and sensual.
The good news is that this chemistry and elemental power continues on interest rates, a tape, which collects some recent singles into a bite-sized yet still substantial mixtape ahead of a promised debut album. Riley rides a wave that takes her between dance floor-baiting tracks like "Power" and slower, jazzier numbers, each track loaded with snaking vocal melodies, sudden chord changes and clever lyrics. Even the one-minute interlude "hi, how are you? (..)" is enchanting, as Riley sings, chuckles and talks over ruminative electronic piano. A mixture of sarcasm, heart-rending emotion and confidence defines her work and her constantly engaging style, from her performances to her music videos.
It's this casually intimate approach that makes interest rates, a tape so memorable. It sounds like Riley is singing directly to you, rattling off phrases as if telling a story to—or playfully telling off—an old friend. She can swing from delicate phrasing to sardonic talk-singing in just a few bars, a sort of stream-of-consciousness that sounds like someone verbalizing every emotion that comes to mind. On "your eyes," the verses sound like the babble of an overactive mind during an anxiety episode, before the deep breath and clear thinking of the chorus. All this happens over gorgeous synth leads stretched out like strands of taffy.
Riley's lyrics are a mix of affirmations—"I'm on the road to greatness," she says like a suave jazz singer on "say yes"—kiss-offs and moments of vulnerability, sometimes all at the same time. One of the most memorable tracks is "money," which sounds both ridiculous and deadly serious as Riley sings, "I want money / give it to me." It's funny until you notice the threat lurking underneath, only underlined by the dive-bombing jungle bassline that jostles the whole track like a minor earthquake.
Tracks like "money," or the garage-influenced "poomplexed," are remarkable in how they so effortlessly mix vital UK dance music with honeyed R&B—nothing feels mashed together or watered down, which is remarkable given how many ideas are floating around here. Sure, there are antecedents that come to mind—the Shut Up and Dance crew especially—but few artists have done this sort of mix so smoothly. It's a seamless fusion that feels entirely Riley's own.
Riley is joined by a couple collaborators—Lex Amor, who adds some vocal contrast to the end of the breezy, almost chatty "say yes," and keyboardist Joseph Armon-Jones, whose mix of jazz and contemporary electronics makes him an obvious match for Riley. Indeed, artists like Armon-Jones and Moses Boyd mine a similar territory to Riley, mixing a lifetime's experience soaking up UK dance music with soul and R&B. But nowhere else will you hear such an endearing and occasionally hilarious mix of lyrics and ideas, a personable nature that makes it feel like you've gotten to know Riley after just 30 minutes of hearing her sing. These are the qualities that make a bona fide star, and they'll probably take Riley somewhere big. For now, there's interest rates, a tape, the kind of important record that you cherish discovering before everyone else inevitably does.