The U.K. funky dance scene is a world that trades in extremes, with each temporary claimant of youngest/newest/loudest enjoying a few months of popularity on the basement club floors before being ousted by the next ingénue. Katy B, at just 22 years old, has held on remarkably well in that fickle microcosm; her first single, “Katy on a Mission,” reached No. 1 on the U.K. Indie Chart in 2010, and she supported fellow South London upstart Tinie Tempah on his nationwide tour this spring. That’s straight veteran standing.
As her assertive debut album makes clear, her continued success hinges as much on her unassuming charm as it does on her more tangible abilities. In fact, her buoyant hooks center the unyielding dance-pop pulse, with her full-bodied purr rising into slinky R&B melisma (“Perfect”) and belted throatily in surefooted independence (“Easy Please Me”). The holding periods between her previously released singles lag a bit — “Disappear” meanders over a solid grime-influenced beat, but can’t sustain the momentum between British chart-toppers “Witches Brew” and “Broken Record.”
The record’s most telling track is the closer: “Hard to Get,” a perfectly glossed, six-minute pop entreaty to a hesitant lover. It breaks midway into Katy B’s cheery, spoken-word interlude of gratitude to her family, her friends, her record label, her production team, the DJs and “pirate radio stations” who played her earliest tracks, and so on and on without pause; it’s an unexpected and remarkably guileless moment, capped with a bout of girlish giggles. That appreciative cheer balances her hour-plus of assertive anthems into something fully relatable, and something moving.