Boy am I late with this review. Jennifer Zhang’s new EP Escape Emotion was released August 29 last year, and I’m finally getting to it now.
It isn’t for lack of enthusiasm. I am still stoked to be sharing this music with you on the seven-month anniversary of its dropping. Zhang’s press release says, “Jennifer Zhang performs each track with a breathless, kittenish sensuality. She is established on the web as a popular content creator and pop media/gaming personality. This EP is her second, following her debut James tha dj Presents Jennifer Zhang VS.”
Dreamy, poppy, and breathy
Zhang calls this an “EDM/pop” collection, a pretty broad categorization that splits the EP between its first two tracks and its last three. I hear dream pop more than anything else in these first two songs. Staccato keyboard rhythms with ethereal, super-pleasing melodies complement Zhang’s breathy voice really well, making it better suited for chilling with a martini than getting sweaty on the dance floor, and here is my one major complaint with this record.
Electronic drumbeats seem determined to turn two nice dream-poppy songs into dance tracks, and they feel like slightly lazy DJ mixes. The beats are bland and uninteresting except in a few moments where they’re stripped back and give the keys and vocals the room they deserve. Once track 3, “Knell,” gets going, the beats make the song better, not quite in the spacy way of the best tracks from that third album by The xx, but pretty reminiscent of them.
The star is Zhang’s vocals. There are moments where Zhang unnecessarily moans into her notes like singers of much less talent (a device that sometimes sounds great but on which too many vocalists rely because they can’t hit the notes directly), and while I’m not a fan of the intentional quivering delivery on “Still Feel,” her voice is pleasing and not an imitation of anyone I can think of. The songs at times make me think of Owl City, The xx, the Japanese dream pop your favorite Lyft driver always plays, and Sade, but the vocals don’t remind me of anyone. I kind of want to hear her sing some 80s hair metal.
The best track is “Collide,” with sweet, layered vocals and the EP’s best lyrics, including the strangely hypnotic “the weird kinetic / so magnetic / we can lay it down / poetic that we can’t connect / when will we come around?” It also has the best vocal moment, when Zhang’s own BGVs stretch out the “colliiiiiiiide, colliiiiiiiiiide” behind her already established rapid delivery of the one-word chorus.
The song I’m least excited about is track 4, and I will admit that late-night slow-jams are not my thing. You know those nights when you’re the last to leave the party, and for whatever reason decide to walk the two miles home, and it seems like it’s the one evening everyone else in town shut it down early? “Drowning” is a great song for that walk’s playlist. Otherwise, it’s the one I’m most likely to skip.
Best song: “Collide”
2nd best song: “Escape Emotion”
Most singable: “Collide”
Song to make you text your ex (don’t do it!): “Still Feel”
Extra credit: Check out Zhang’s books, published under Jennfer Chang
Produced by Diana “AutoReiv” Cha and Drew “Kid Original” Krassowski
Written by Jennifer Zhang, Diana “AutoReiv” Cha, Drew “Kid Original” Krassowski, and Glenn Suravech “Mosaic”