Jenn Champion started getting her feet wet in the clean, crisp world of electronic music on her previous album, 2014’s Cool Choices, and even more so on her 2016 single “No One.” And despite her initial plans to make her next album “a rock record — guitar, a lot of pedals, heavy riffs,” Single Rider continues breezing down the same lush electronic path (escorted by the album’s producer, Brian Fennell, who works under the name SYML).
Though it might throw her longtime fans for a loop (Champion got her start in Seattle indie rock act Carissa’s Weird back in the ’90s, and subsequent work tended to contemplative singer-songwriter), Champion’s cool voice is actually well suited to the persistent ping-ping-ping of synthesizers and the hypnotic beat of synthetic drums. There’s a fresh, brisk feeling to the music, like the first chill that signals the arrival of autumn.
The album’s themes are predominantly love and relationships. Champion is beguilingly seductive on “Coming for You,” as she pursues someone who’d rather escape love’s complications and confusions. But in songs like “Holding On” and “The Move” she’s navigating more turbulent waters. “Never Giving In” throws in disconcerting pauses as if echoing the stuttering start-stop-start-stop rhythms of some relationships. And despite its authoritarian title, “It’s Time to Regulate” has a sprightly bounce, especially when coupled with Champion’s teasing whisper, “Cause you just never feel right/I’ll make you feel better.”
There’s a nice trifecta of song titles at the album’s end: “Bleed,” “Hustle,” and “Going Nowhere.” Yes, it’s a rather bleak trilogy. There’s the naked plea of “I will need your hands on me” in “Bleed,” while the music’s largely stripped back to just the piano on the final two (other keyboards creep in at the end of “Going Nowhere”). That last song also contains the morose sentiment, “This is the biggest waste of time.” But even then, Champion doesn’t sounds totally downhearted. She sounds like a survivor. And Single Rider is ready to swoop you up and take you for another spin on the dance floor, as long as the tunes keep spinning.