It must be unbearable to have your entire career discussed solely in terms of your ex-boyfriend, and in Amber Coffman’s journey we see this played out in a truly complicated way. Her debut solo album, City of No Reply, has been completely overshadowed by her breakup, both professionally and romantically, with Dave Longstreth, the leader of Dirty Projectors. Coffman’s work with the band is responsible for introducing her to the public—her otherworldly vocals that permeate Bitte Orca and Swing Lo Magellan bring an uncanny beauty to those indie rock masterpieces. So when Longstreth announced late last year that he was releasing a solo album under the name Dirty Projectors, after years of inactivity, it surprised everyone, but especially Coffman who didn’t know she had been kicked out of the band.

That was the first sign that Longstreth wasn’t exactly handling their breakup amicably. But things got really ugly when he dropped ‘Keep Your Name’ as the album’s first single. It’s basically a diss track against Coffman that lays out what he thinks went wrong in their relationship. It wasn’t surprising to hear Longstreth explain how Kanye gave him the confidence to enter into this territory. His album is in some sense his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: half bitter diatribe, half apologetic confessional.

So who could have imagined that Coffman’s debut album would be co-written and produced by Longstreth himself?! Of course, this was only able to happen because Coffman had no idea what Longstreth had brewing while they were making this record. As far as she could tell, they were generally on good terms and she was simply turning to her close friend who had become inextricably tied to her creative process. (Moving forward, I’d imagine she’ll be looking elsewhere for collaborators.)

But despite all of this tension, which could have caused the project to fall apart at any moment, City of No Reply is a resounding success. Their musical chemistry is as strong as ever. Sure, this album sounds nothing like the experimental rock they produced during their time together in Dirty Projectors. Instead, they draw on sides of themselves that we’ve usually only seen when they were working apart from one another, and fused them together in a way that sounds completely natural. The album’s aesthetic sounds like a perfect blend of Longstreth’s work on Solange’s A Seat At the Table with Coffman’s feature on Major Lazer’s ‘Get Free’.

However, the album’s rollout painted a different picture of how this album would sound. ‘All to Myself’ and ‘No Coffee’ were released as singles before the album, and, despite being fantastic songs in their own right, are a misleading preview of the album as a whole. Based on these two songs alone, you’d think City of No Reply would be a retro-celebration of 60s and 70s pop music, not unlike a She & Him album. The beautiful ‘All To Myself’ comes straight out of the early 60s, with a chord progression somewhere in between ‘In My Room’ and ‘Can’t Stand Falling in Love’. The infectious ‘No Coffee’ is even better, with a sound that’s perfectly described by writer Stacey Anderson as being indebted to the “placid AM gold” of the 70s. These two songs lyrically fit the general theme of the album as powerful expressions of self-love in the face of heartache, but musically it’s clear that they were very different from the rest of the album, and they tacked them on to the beginning, almost as a prologue, so they wouldn’t mess up the overall flow.

The album really takes off after the sunshine-pop of the first two tracks is out of the way, when we’re introduced to ‘Dark Night’. The song sets the tone for the entire album as a peculiar kind of mellow, pop R&B album with its sparse groove made up of ice cold synth drums. It has that endearing quality that defines the best pop music with a vibe that reminds me of Janet Jackson’s ‘When I Think of You’ with modern production. The dancehall-influenced title track comes next, and thankfully comes off as subtle, lacking the overbearing nature of most dancehall pop hits that have so seen many artists being accused of culturally appropriating the style over the past few years. Aside from a couple of breathtaking ballads such as ‘Brand New’ and ‘Do You Believe’, the album maintains a steady vibe without becoming boring.

The only deviation from the formula is the standout track ‘Under the Sun’. It’s the only song throughout the meat of the album that goes back to the retro-pop of the first two songs with an irresistible melody and slinky guitar leads that harken back to the duo’s playing on ‘Temecula Sunrise’ from Bitte Orca. The placement of the song so late on the record proves that the album’s first two tracks didn’t need be sectioned off from the rest. In fact, sprinkling those two songs evenly throughout the album would have probably helped City’s flow a bit by adding some diversity and excitement.

Longstreth’s production gives City of No Reply a fantastic vibe throughout as a laid-back summer album, but what really sets the album apart is Coffman’s stunning vocals, which I somehow have barely touched on throughout this review. I guess it’s easy to take her voice for granted—ever since we first heard her back on that Dirty Projectors’ novelty Rise Above cover album we knew she was an unbelievable singer. But it should be noted that her voice has matured a lot throughout the years—she’s able to capture a broad range of emotions and styles in very subtle ways. Compare the vocals on this album to Bitte Orca and you see how we’re years away from the loud, robotic, arpeggiated vocal attacks that defined Dirty Projectors for years.

As a breakup record City of No Reply is truly refreshing. It’s vulnerable without being either self-defeating or overly-aggressive and it’s both honest and warm, admitting blame without being overly-dramatic. And whereas Longstreth’s last Dirty Projectors album is a journey towards that level of maturity after a bunch of emotional outbursts, Coffman presents a serene acceptance throughout the album that’s incredibly comforting. She’s thankful for the beautiful times their relationship gave her, but she’s now ready to the put the past behind her as she sets out alone without her closest friend and collaborator for the first time in over a decade.