It's a match made in the stars - longtime pals Jon Ehrens (White Life) and Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak) have conjoined to spew R&B-splashed indie-pop under the moniker Dungeonesse. Even though it's perhaps an odd combination of personnel and sounds, it never sounds out of place - it feels like this is an album they've had brewing for many years. They bonded over a mutual affection for chart-topping pop and 90s R&B, and eventually began collaborating via email whilst in their respective day jobs to craft their eponymous debut LP, sending snippets for each party to warp and mutate. The result of this arduous long distance relationship is a kind of ticking synth-pop dominated by Wasner's superior pipes; it's a record where you can clearly hear their intentions and inspirations.
Dungeonesse welcomed the advent of their first record with three tracks. 'Shucks' is a bout of misty electro-funk, with Wasner's stunning vocal performance flipping between melodic wailing and catchy, rhythmic speak-singing: "I know it doesn't look like much/ but it's love/ and I know that it's good enough." The other preluding effort, 'Drive You Crazy' is a myriad of disco bass and hook-laden nostalgic R&B vocals akin to Aaliyah or Brandy. It wouldn't be particularly surprising if this track turned out to actually be from the mid-90s. 'Nighlight' is the most recent single released, which hasn't quite found as much fame as the other two, possibly due to its slower, more balladic nature - it's not got the same timbre as the other cuts, and feels more like straight-up synthpop.
Given Ciara's recent comeback and the recent prevalence of Cassie's sounds in remixes, it's a shame that this record, even though 2013 is probably the perfect time for it, is unlikely to hit the mainstream airwaves that Wasner and Ehrens have plotted for. Even though the 90s and slick R&B couldn't be more popular these days, Dungeonesse walk the fine line between the sound they aim for and obscure indie music: Wye Oak and White Life aren't exactly household names, and a side project involving the two, zooming off in a completely different direction to what we're used to, could have the potential to alienate their current, respective fanbases, which would be of further detriment. Whilst their music might be incredible (which it just so happens to be), they lack the exposure to the general public to be real chart contenders.
'Private Party' has 80s hip-hop beats and neo-trance synth wails underneath Wasner's deeply effect-riddled vox; her reinterpretation of the smooth, soulful R&B voice is uncanny. Again, majestic bass grooves underneath – this should be soundtracking nights out across the globe. A vast diversion from Dungeonesse's 90s diaspora is 'Anywhere You Are'. Wasner's voice may scream out for the styles of 15-20 years ago, but Ehren's contemporary glitch-dance bears more resemblance to a tranquil Crystal Castles or Doldrums. It's an interesting juxtaposition, but it isn't entirely pulled off when lined up next to the rest of the record.
With their mission statement clear as day, we can easily see if they've achieved what they intended to. So, did they succeed in, as Wasner puts it, "Reclaiming pop music; placing it squarely in the hands of, I dunno, say a couple of regular nerds from Baltimore?" Well, yes and no. It is definitely pop; it's hugely fashionable music du jour replete with 90s namechecks and an R&B slant. However, and unfortunately, we're not going to see Dungeonesse encroach upon Rihanna or Beyoncé's territory anytime soon. Maybe that's cynicism talking, but we'll see when Dungeonesse drops.
Regardless of the reaction it garners, this is an enjoyable debut album that ticks all the right boxes. It's got parts that are shamelessly fun and danceworthy, it's got parts that require a careful listen and an open heart. Whacking on Dungeonesse would be a very worthwhile use of your time.