Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Cassie – King of Hearts

Say it after me: S-O-F-T…


Katherine St Asaph: Cassie writes another “Move Ya Body,” compelling yet slight. Bloggers are nevertheless found dead the world over.

Edward Okulicz: So light and sweet, I half expect to find out it’s made entirely of egg whites and sugar. But meringues are one of the fastest ways to my heart, so how am I to resist Cassie’s effortless warmth? Her vocals sparkle like any 80s popette’s, the beeps are 90s, the beats are the erotically-charged minimalism of the 00s (“Move Ya Body,” girl!) and the effect is timeless. Uplifting, too.

John Seroff: The “King of Hearts” question: does a simple, warm-from-the-oven sugar cookie taste that much better when it’s made lovingly by hand than when it’s stamped out cookie cutter style from a store-bought sheet? The apparent answer: not necessarily.

Brad Shoup: It took me actual years to come to terms with “Me & U,” but this song connected instantly, so Lord knows how everyone else is gonna feel. I think it’s massive. It flips the script of the former’s blankness into straight-up chill, especially on a chorus so great J2 can’t resist revisiting and embellishing it. Cassie’s vocal isn’t echoed so much as pooled, barrels of liquid added to the rainfall of staccato synth, handclaps and that skipping, skittery beat. I was going to say it’s wonderful that she’s adapted to the landscape, but it’s about as likely that her initial approach was anticipatory.

Anthony Easton: The handclap-sounding percussive rhythm and her slack vocals, sad and a little buried, sounds like she wants to believe what she is singing but she realises that seduction and charm are kind of empty. How it phases out into electronic noise, and how she speak-sings: it’s unsettled as a text, whether she’s trying to convince ourselves, him, herself — or is she saying, “Fuck you”? Is it a compliment or an insult? The ambiguity of this and the continual repetitiveness reminds of perversely of Gertrude Stein at her most besotted and gnomic.

Alex Ostroff: Cassie has spent the six years since her impressive debut disappearing through the cracks between labels, while her voice has been harnessed as a ghost in the machine by a universe of electronic and bass producers. It’s not entirely surprising, then, that her reemergence cuts out the middleman and sets her adrift in the centre of the dancefloor. The sweetness and slightness of her voice remain, but the sass, seduction and swing of earlier R&B-leaning leaks have vanished. It’s nice to have proof that Cassie’s icy charisma persists even when submerged beneath a sea of production, but there’s not enough to connect with here; her personality and humour have evaporated, leaving the essence of yearning.

Iain Mew: So it’s like angsty alt-disco, except that there’s barely any angst, whatever the half second of dubstep or the synth avalanche at the end would like to suggest. It’s immaculately constructed and well sung enough to work as ear candy, but it does still feel like something’s missing.

Zach Lyon: I guess I didn’t have a radio in 2006 because this is somehow the first solo track I’ve ever heard from Cassie, though I do know enough about her to now be scared of what her cult would do to me for admitting to that. I’m surprised that what I had imagined to be a stand-out personality is playing backup to the beat, as if this should really be something like David Guetta/Calvin Harris/[insert MUCH better producer] ft. Cassie. She stands out hardly more than she did in “Addiction.” It is a wonderful beat, but I don’t think I’ll be listening to it again; if I went to clubs, maybe my reaction would be different, but I can’t think of another context where it would be useful. It doesn’t move me.

Jonathan Bogart: In 2006, I wasn’t paying attention to Cassie, but I was head over heels in love with Europop pixies like Annie and Robyn, with their lush, glittering synths and sweet, lovelorn melodies. I would eventually learn to love Cassie in time for the spare, chromed “Me & U” to become one of my favorite songs of the oughts, but what I wasn’t prepared for was that the two loves would dovetail. “King of Hearts” isn’t as futuristically clean and precise as “Me & U,” but the sighing vocals and wistful throb of it is so straight out of the Swedish indie-electro playbook that it might as well have “Heartbeat” in the title.

Michaela Drapes: Lightweight, but hardly flimsy; the dreamworld synth burble and whispered lyrics give this an otherworldly feel, but there’s a demanding physicality, too. You can dance for hours at this bpm, can’t you?

Alfred Soto: Yet another one-named female R&B singer makes up for the perfidy of record companies. With a subtle, insinuating beat and a robopop vocal that can coax warmth from synth pads and lust from pedestrian sequencers, Cassie proves why she should persuade Amerie and Ciara to unionize.

14 Responses to “Cassie – King of Hearts”

  1. Here’s a rare instance where Cassie’s anonymous voice works for her – I like hearing this as some unknown up and comer from Scandanavia (the Annie comparison, esp.). I didn’t realize TSJ’s general sentiment towards Cassie was so positive. This is the first time she’s done anything for me.

  2. I can understand why Cassie might not generally work for some people (I’m admittedly part of the cult), but the idea that ‘King of Hearts’ is the first time she connects sort of surprises me. Official Girl and Is It You? were probably stronger singles, even if they never took off. Me & U – which is a much more minimal song – is still the pinnacle of her recorded output.

  3. The critical community’s general sentiment towards Cassie is bizarrely positive. “Me and U” was decent, but it wasn’t THAT good. (There’s also something a little uncomfortable about blankness being such a prized quality in vocalists, but that’s for a longer piece.)

  4. “Blankness” stands in for something cold, alluring – not the abscence of personality.

  5. Queen Casandra *bow*

  6. I think Mat has a point, but for me it depends on context. It works here and even adds interest, but other times it doesn’t; “Must Be Love” was ruined for me because Cassie sang about infatuation as if she were reading a grocery list.

  7. When were we ever so hard that we never occasionally agreed with the conventional blog wisdom?

  8. Yeah, I disagree with the idea that she’s ‘blank’ generally. She’s certainly guilty of it on Must Be Love, and the sweeter material she has can be a little hollow if she’s not really selling the bubblegum, but when I talk about admiring her iciness (or whatever) I usually mean her ability to project control. Janet has the same two sides of her vocals, imo.

  9. Perhaps I should have said “numbness”. Regardless, “Me & U” struck me as straight-up paralyzed for a long time. I can’t speak to her vocal qualities in general.

  10. To me she always sounds like a drugged, catatonic kidnapping victim. Blank’s not even the half of it.

  11. no subtext here folks, move along.

  12. Damn, I missed this. Was wavering between 8 and 9 anyway, which would have taken another five hours out of my life. In the blurb I might have gone into a long incoherent story around the fact that three years ago on a drive with relatives to Mystic Seaport we went through New London and passed the Williams School and I said to incomprehending family members, “You don’t know who Cassie is and you most likely will never hear her, but this is where she went to high school.” And from that unpromising beginning I continued talking about Cassie, despite only a tiny possibility that they would ever care about her, and despite the certainty that they didn’t care about her at that moment. Was then (in my blurb, not the car trip) going to ask if Cassie could be inexplicably alluring even when reduced to little blips, and answer, “Yes.” Perhaps would have added an anecdote about the time I countered Phil Dellio’s takedown of Clint Eastwood’s skill as an actor with a long, eloquent defense of Clint’s acting, and Phil praised me highly for how I managed to come up with twenty synonyms for “boring.” In any event, I’d rate ten or fifteen Cassie tracks even higher than this, almost all of them unreleased. I think there’s maybe one post-first album track I dislike. Favorites are “Summer Charm” and “Turn The Lights Off.”

    Katherine, if you’re interested, the “Boney Joan Rule” is where I definitively fail to explain Cassie’s allure. Don’t think she’s blank, do think she’s recessive, think that, as she recedes, the space is filled with massive desire. Doubt that any other singer should even try this. Which doesn’t mean there’s no other singer who moves me in a Cassie way. I think I’ve written here that I get the same Cassie feeling from Dev (or for Dev), despite Dev not being recessive at all but rather being a scrappy outgoing little clubrat. The same drifting sexiness permeating her atmosphere.

  13. Very interesting that two blurbs mention “Move Ya Body” – that’s another fave among folks I respect. That one still hasn’t clicked, and I’m not sure it ever will. What rubbed me the wrong way about “Me & You” was its performative text – it’s like a one-man focus group. I guess I feel better about Cassie making someone else dance.

  14. For me “blankness” is pejorative — I accuse Rihanna of it all the time. Some of my favorite vocalists are non-singers who still project personality (e.g. Bernard Sumner, Zevon).