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Miss Red
K.O. Luke Cartledge , July 10th, 2018 12:47

A ferocious riposte to mainstream dancehall mediocrity

Dancehall is in a curious state at the moment. The shadow it casts over the pop mainstream has arguably never been longer, yet time and again the resulting music simply sinks into the “sea of poptastic blandness” described by Kevin Martin, aka The Bug, the producer for K.O.. This album, from Israeli MC Miss Red, can be understood as an antidote to that blandness, a subversion of the lumpy, indistinct dancehall tropes of Major Lazer et al into something more urgent, engaged, and invigorating. It works superbly.

Miss Red, aka Sharon Stern, is an astonishing vocal presence. Her flow is dextrous and fiery, brilliantly confrontational. She’s highly literate in her genre, nodding to familiar dancehall inflections while making no bones about her status as a white female Israeli. Born to Polish and Israeli-Moroccan parents in xxx, her self-awareness and personal experience of conflict drive her words throughout K.O.. The righteous fury that permeates each track is rooted in very real issues.

Although this is unquestionably Stern’s album, The Bug’s production deserves a nod. It is rich, fibrous stuff, each gloopy bassline and lumbering beat expertly placed and carefully textured. The murk of his recent Burial collaborations as Flame 1 is given new life here, strongarmed out of ambient stasis (that’s not, necessarily, a criticism) into muscular energy. Tracks like ‘One Shot Killer’ and ‘Money Machine’ stomp along, all pounding rhythms and gale-force subs. Combined with Stern’s show-stealing vocal, it is goosebump-inducing.

The Bug has spoken of his and Stern’s desire to “mirror these fucked-up times with a fucked-up soundtrack.” K.O. achieves that aim in exhilarating style; by tackling the mediocrity of a chart-topping genre head-on and infusing every track with genuine polemical anger, Miss Red and The Bug have created a record that is as thrilling as it is timely.