Matt on Music: Dawn Richard's 'Goldenheart'

Last year’s “Armor On” EP wasn’t Dawn Richard’s first release. It wasn’t even her first solo LP. In 2005, before she was ever a member of Danity Kane (whose hit “Damaged” is among the greatest pop songs of 2008) or Diddy-Dirty Money, she released “Been a While,” an album that has been almost completely forgotten.

“Armor On” might as well have been her first record, though. It had the tone and confidence of a newcomer with nothing to lose. In actuality, Richard was a former radio-pop singer who’d just left Bad Boy Records to release music independently. “Armor On” was a prelude to “Goldenheart,” a trilogy she planned to release.

The real magic of “Armor On” was its ambition, and how she seemed to have an indie mentality despite having a history of pop success. If anything, the album proved that Richard truly loved music and wasn’t in this for anyone other than herself. “Goldenheart,” her new album and the first of the trilogy, goes even further to prove that.

“Goldenheart” is a lot longer than the EP. This had the potential to be either a flaw or an advantage. The main problem with “Armor On” was its lack of stand-out tracks. While an album with a greater whole than individual parts can work, the lack of major highlights worked against Richard. With a longer length, the extra tracks could either result in a bigger chance of stellar individual songs, or it could result in a longer album with just as few stand-outs.

Luckily, from the Santogold-esque opening track all the way to the gorgeous ending moments, “Goldenheart” avoids making that mistake.
These very memorable key songs add so much to the album. “Riot” is the most radio-worthy track, while “Pretty Wicked Things” and “Northern Lights” generate the same kind of strangeness that performers like Frank Ocean and Miguel have brought to rhythym and blues. The best track, “Tug of War,” is an inspirational love ballad that works better than most.

Many moments on the album are bizarre, with a reference to Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” in the opening track being the most memorable (“In the Air Tonight” is a divorce song, and “Goldenheart” is a concept album about the aftermath of a breakup, so maybe there’s a connection). A reference to Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” (on a song called “In Your Eyes”) makes more sense, while references to Frank Miller’s graphic novel “300” on a song called “300” blur the line between awesome and insane.

“Goldenheart” gets better with each listen. Even the songs that initially seemed forgettable continue to grow, and it even works more as a whole piece than “Armor On.” This isn’t an album that an early review can do justice though, so it will probably continue to reveal itself. As of right now, it’s a fine album that I’m looking forward to revisiting over and over again throughout the year, as well as in later years.

Grade: A-

Key tracks: “Tug of War,” “Riot,” “Northern Lights,” “In Your Eyes” and “Pretty Wicked Things.”

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