New Designer Drug, the J*DaVeY album that we’ve been waiting on for the better part of four years now, is something that I didn’t think a J*DaVeY album could be: subdued. That’s not to say that they don’t bring their signature electro funk that got songs like “Mister Mister” and “No More” noticed. Still, the affair opts for more of a slow burn than the instant high one would expect from a crew as rambunctious as Miss Jack Davey and Brook D’Leau are. Perhaps that reflects a maturity that has settled over the duo in the six years since they’ve burst onto the music scene (Miss Jack has even recently become a new proud mother). Don’t be dismayed, though, because while it might not be what you expect, it is well worth the wait.
NDD is a proclamation for the world to take notice, so it’s only fitting the first track you hear is “Listen.” A plea to be heard by a lover, the piano-driven slow groove is both spacey and intimate. It’s also a bit long, clocking in at six-and-a-half minutes. Still, it’s good as an intro before the album drifts to the more abstract territory of single “Queen of Wonderland,” “WhatchaLookin@,” and “Kill 4 Fun.” Featuring bass-guitar god Thundercat, “Wonderland” shows both sides of Miss Jacks voice on the whispery coo of the verse and the guttural yell of the chorus. “WhatchaLookin@” and “Kill 4 Fun” both speak to a disengagement with current society, with “WhatchaLookin@” channeling an early ’90’s aesthetic and “Kill” tapping into the rebelious nature of punk.
“Rock that Ship,” a full out electro-dance track reminiscent of Lady Gaga, does the group a disservice. While it’s fun enough, it just feels a bit hollow. They get back on track with “Turn the Lights Out,” though, with it’s pop/funk hybrid striking the chord that “Ship” just didn’t. “Little Tramp$” is one of the album’s brightest moments, with Brook taking over on the mic. His dry, one note delivery works so well with the song’s subject matter (the folks who make your day just that much more annoying) and the inventive production that skitters along with a bop and organ riff.
The Prince-ly ’80’s R&B groove of “Topsy Turvy” is where NDD finds its sweet spot. Backed by a synth basss and programmed drums, Jack spouts come on after come on against Brook’s playground of melody in a way that will make you hit repeat more than a few times. “MaMa’s Back” tackles New Wave with a flair that only the duo can bring, with a verve and playfulness all their own. They delve into introspection with “This One.” With an almost Bob Dylan-like lyrical delivery, a distorted-voiced Miss Jack dedicates the song to those “that don’t believe in anyone and anything” like she does. Brook really shines here as well, taking the song from synthy pop to electro funk, then simmering it down to a mellow groove before bringing the funk back again. The song then devolves into final track “Anything Goes,” a mostly instrumental three-minute jam that closes the album in the best way possible.
New Designing Drug finds J*DaVeY in an interesting position. No longer beholden to the constraints of a major label deal, they are allowed to take their music in any direction they see fit. For some, this can be both a gift and a curse, but Jack and Brooke mostly find a way to rein in their ambitions but still shoot for sound that’s extremely unique and cohesive. No, it’s not the exact record you’d imagine, but that doesn’t matter because it’s one that you’ll find yourself coming back to again and again. Oh, by the way, for those that listen to the album without skipping, there are a few little easter eggs attached to certain songs that I’m sure you’ll be happy to hear.