Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
This year is a fantastic time to be an indie band on the dance floor. It’s been a great time, in fact: despite house music’s mainstream resurgence dominating pop-pivot-related narratives in recent months (yet another testament to the sheer scale of the Beyoncé juggernaut), nu-disco’s moment is chugging along with no signs of abating. This has to do with a years-long convergence of factors: the steady rise of pop stars like Jessie Ware and Dua Lipa, who brought the club to a quarantine-bound public; widespread acquiescence to poptimism’s ideological victory; and most importantly, a stream of bands once beholden to straightforward guitar rock growing restless enough to try a little four-on-the-floor action.
Girl Ray is definitely not the first to do so, nor will they be the last. The North London trio traded in straightforward guitar rock exactly once on their tender-hearted and homespun 2017 debut Earl Grey. By 2019’s Girl, they were citing Mark Ronson and Calvin Harris as influences and tripling down on ‘80s pop sparkle and funkified R&B. Given its predecessor, Prestige is both a natural progression and a near-total immersion in nu-disco. Co-produced by Ben H. Allen III—whose oeuvre includes dancefloor-minded records from Cut Copy, Washed Out, and Belle & Sebastian—Prestige is a slicked-back and scuff-free record eager to show off its retro chops. That includes the cover, with its bygone paparazzi-style snap of the trio emerging from a basement club, drinks still in hand. It’s vintage down to the film grain and the hip-hugging plaid flares.
Besides these frequent gestures to Chic and Sylvester, more contemporary influences seep into Prestige as well. There are HAIM-style harmonies on “Easy” and “Hold Tight,” plus enough burning synthpop desire on “Up” that it wouldn’t feel out of place in La Roux’s catalog. “Everybody’s Saying That” approaches Chromeo-levels of Casio sleaze, as does the vocoder-drenched album closer “Give Me Your Love.” The combined effect propels them into Parcels and Franc Moody territory; this is music for sashaying together in St. Tropez, as opposed to making out in the bathroom at Berghain or behind the South London warehouse at an illegal rave. The clever intro of a car pulling to a stop in front of a club, the muffled strains of album opener “True Love” audible in the distance, is a statement of purpose, establishing the record’s scope immediately. Girl Ray’s approach to Prestige isn’t complex or elegant, but neither is pleasure itself; that the end product is easy to love feels only fitting.