The UK dance star downshifts on her first new collection in five years, embracing smoky, understated R&B with moody arrangements and a flirty touch.
Katy B has spent over 10 years as the Cinderella of UK dance: a winsome anti-diva upon whom listeners project all their clubbing thrills and dreams. But her music was never just about the club. Just as often, she sang about the liminal spaces between those nights: between one weekend and the next, between sudden spark and future disaster, between dancing past the pain and feeling it full force. So when Katy returns after a five-year break to barren nightlife and a musical world that’s nothing but liminal space, the transition’s remarkably smooth.
Peace and Offerings’ generous eight tracks contain no explosive bangers or erupting drops but build upon her introspective deep cuts—touchpoints include “Disappear” and “Play,” undersung highlights of 2011’s On a Mission and 2014’s Little Red, respectively. They also take Katy further into quiet, smoky R&B than ever before. It’s a far better fit than the adult-contemporary ballads Little Red nudged her toward; she’s steeped in the R&B genre, and lucky that its going sound plays to her strengths: not diva melisma, but subtle interpretation. But that’s the thing: R&B is a crowded space, particularly as a crossover act. The same low-key likability that got Katy B anointed the face of UK dance makes her, in R&B, one among many.
Fortunately, little can suppress her charm on record, even when she doesn’t totally sound like herself. Lead singles “Under My Skin” and “Lay Low”—the former beat by Nigerian British producer P2J, the latter a sun-dappled production by Mike Brainchild—are midtempo Afrobeats cuts that one could imagine as radio hits from any point in the past few years, by Katy or anybody else. “Open Wound,” a duet with fellow BRIT School alum Jaz Karis, isn’t the torch song the title suggests but something subtler and more quietly devastating. The wistful chord progression, yearning melody, and understated vocals suggest the kind of heartbreak that drains the color from months or years to follow. But Katy and Jaz are so similar in timbre and delivery that you’d need the credits to know it’s a duet; while they sell the track, they never quite own it.
Peace and Offerings is strongest when it indulges its moods, no matter what length or structure. “Aftermath” is Katy B’s “History of Touches”: a woozy and unmoored arrangement that seems to warp time around it, with measured lyrics that stretch into slo-mo. Katy delivers her words tentatively, with a buried sigh, as if she’s only now realizing just how many emotions are bubbling up from some self-loathing place. It’s almost a shame when the mood is broken by a ballad chorus and the track is over in less than three minutes. The EP closes with Katy B’s best track in years: “Daydreaming on a Tuesday,” produced by longtime collaborator and UK dance veteran Geeneus. Atop a breakbeat that sounds like twitterpated feels and a chromatic string arrangement full of knowing melodrama, Katy crushes unabashedly. She skips along the melody with a light, flirty touch, rehearses conversations, imagines herself as Marilyn alongside Marlon. The swooning sounds very little like anything she’s released before—and, probably, to come. “I don’t see myself just making really chilled music for the rest of my life,” she told DIY earlier this year. The best moments of Peace and Offerings, though, suggest she could linger there indefinitely.
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