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Taken at face value, New York duo Lion Babe (singer-songwriter and performance artist Jillian Hervey and instrumentalist and producer Lucas "Astro Raw" Goodman) aren't doing much to distinguish themselves in a field that has become increasingly overcrowded the past few years. On their full-length debut, the appropriately titled Begin, they offer up pretty straight-forward takes on R&B, electronic, hip-hop, disco, house, and neo-soul with a sensual but bold attitude. Where they do set themselves apart from other like-minded acts is their back-to-basics approach to the music, avoiding detours into deliberately "weird" experimentation in favor of lush and meticulously crafted arrangements that aren't overly fussy. While it would be a bit much to expect them to innovate or take those styles in completely different directions, it wouldn't be out of the question to ask that they at least do something remotely interesting with them, and that is where they sometimes come up short.

Part of the reason too has to do with the production itself. Goodman favors the kind of polished hit-making production suited for radio play and soundtracking trendy shopping boutiques, but he hasn't quite worked out the balance between gloss and substance, and, at times, that high-gloss finish has a way of diminishing powerful songs like 'Whole', the Pharrell Williams produced 'Wonder Woman', and 'Stressed OUT!', whose strong messages of empowerment and confidence are rendered a little flat. There are moments though where they find their niche and everything falls into place. 'Jump Hi' is an impressive take on funky retro soul nearly soured by a phoned-in (and frankly pointless) Childish Gambino feature; lead single 'Where Do We Go' gleefully smears the lines between house music, disco, and r&b; and on their debut single 'Treat Me Like Fire', finger snapped percussion, and warm murmuring organs create dusky neo-soul vibe where a dusty Eunice Collins sample intermingles with Jillian Hervey's own jazzy tones.

It's safe to assume that she isn't shaking the Erykah Badu and Lauren Hill comparisons anytime soon, but there's no denying she possesses a commanding voice, even if it lacks its own unique identity. Hiccups aside, Begin is an otherwise highly enjoyable album, one that sees Lion Babe fearless in their willingness to experiment with various styles in order to see what works and what doesn't, and it's through that process of discovery that they will eventually find their groove and hopefully the hit singles they are striving to create.

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