Kiesza, Sound of a Woman

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 10.21.14 in Reviews

Kiesza has a big voice. If this were the ’90s, she’d be giving Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Celine Dion competition in the Titanic-scaled power-ballad department. But since this is the EDM-fixated present, the debut album of this Canadian powerhouse known to her parents as Kiesa Rae Ellestad is dominated by a particular brand of house music that peaked in the early ’90s.

A debut album that doesn’t leave us wanting more

Musical trends often get revived in 20-year cycles, so it’s not surprising that someone would revive the vocal styles and dance grooves of the George Bush Sr. years. Kiesza and collaborator Rami Samir Afuni don’t single-mindedly hew to ’90s house: There are midtempo grooves that draw from trap, bass and modern R&B. But she’s most convincing in that lane: One listen to her U.K. chart-topper “Hideaway” — a canny throwback to the ’90s house hits of CeCe Peniston (“Finally”) and Robin S. (“Show Me Love“) — makes it quite clear that she’s got both the intensity and technique to be more than merely imitative.

“Hideaway,” its follow-up singles “Giant in My Heart” and “No Enemiesz,” and similar sequels “The Love” and “Over Myself” are far more memorable than her explorations of trap (“Bad Thing”) and other pace-changing digressions. The other attention-grabbing cut is her slow piano rendition of Haddaway’s “What Is Love” — another ’90s dance-pop milestone — that accumulates orchestration and then deftly ebbs away.

But when, after awhile, the sameness of her full-throttle delivery sets in. Nuance in the engineering department could’ve helped: She’s mixed to fill the forefront, a tactic that sustains interest for the singles but wears out its welcome over the album’s 50 minutes. Dancing blithely through the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Kiesza suggests in her phenomenally popular single-take video for “Hideaway” that she’s a potential superstar, but Sound of a Woman fails to accomplish a key debut album goal: It doesn’t leave us wanting more.