No Good | Ivy Levan | Rating: 8.1/11 |
Ivy Levan is several things: Shockingly gorgeous, vocally ferocious, dramatically fierce, thoroughly in your face and perhaps a tad bit frightening. That last bit is in regards to the blunt force trauma that you may suffer at the hands of some of her raw and less than genteel lyrical stylings. That said, Levan’s full-length debut, No Good, walks a fine line between ballsy abrasion and straight up emotional feels…with a layer of in your face.
The Arkansas native isn’t quite your typical Southern belle: she’ll cite Etta James and Wu Tang Clan as reference points, has coined what she deals in as “swamp hop” and “pop noir” and they’re both damned fitting. As party-fied, rife with beats and ready for the club as tracks “The Dame Says” and “Biscuit” are, her Southern sass, hip hop grind and darker shade of pop stand up and scream for notice. No Good allows Levan to traverse and excavate herself thoroughly – even playfully -, leaving precious little dirt unturned. For better and for worse, but let’s deal with the better right now.
Tackling most songs with something of a growling “no guts, no glory” approach is Levan’s wheelhouse and, if you’ve ever seen her live, you know that’s simply who she is and what you’re dealing with: she’s tart but not bitter and she exerts complete and commanding control over her voice in tone, texture and delivery. With aggro snarls and an impressive as hell vocal range, No Good runs deep with catchy, up beat goods alongside some slinkier and surprising softness. “The Dame Says” and “Biscuit” are Levan at her playfully confrontational best (or worst, if that kind of thing turns you off): they’re all bombastic attitude and cheekily twisted in their over the top demand for attention. Note: this record comes with an explicit content label for a reason, but it also comes with Sting so pick your battles.
Levan may be a pseudo pop diva-in training and this is a good thing. “Pseudo” because even though she’s got the goods to travel a more frivolous road, she genuinely has more substantive bearings underneath. While the hip hop of “Champagne Taste” caters to living larger than your “Bud Light budget” may allow but fuck it, the doo-wop tinged “27 Club” produced by Diplo (yes, that Diplo) nails a similar mindset home in rock n roll, pop culture terms with the twenty seven-year-old Levan proclaiming she’d “rather burn out” than live an unfulfilled life. You go, girl, and here’s to hoping that you don’t join the members of the “club” that you honor in song. The surprises mainly come in the more tempered moments like the sultry, and somewhat jazzy swing of the title track where Levan laments the detrimental effects of a certain lover as well as the sheer, beautiful and haunted longing of the ballad, “Johnny Boy” and closer “It Ain’t Easy.” It’s when those temperatures change that you’re refreshed by the woman behind those blood red lips. But not all surprises are good. Case in point, we should file “Fits Me Like a Glove” under “What were you thinking?” as it loses too many points due to guest rapper, Cadre’s, crude, stalkerish, violence-projecting, restraining order in aisle 5, verses. What. The. Fuck. No doubt, when imagined and clowning around in the studio it probably seemed all cute, joke-ish and maybe even a tad romantic, but… We’ll just move on.
Allowing that one misstep to slide, No Good ends up being a brazenly satisfying ride because of Levan’s versatility. Power, powerhouse and playful, domination, dance and determined, sass, smolder and self-aware: all things that Levan does in spades. She also does a duet with label mate and perpetual Police-man, Sting on “Killing You” which keeps a charmingly even keel where she and Sting vocally trade off (with an appropriately delicious bass line) despite being an ode to relationship self-sabotage. So at the end of it all, No Good pretty much gives you a good idea of Ivy Levan as she picks up and presents handfuls of life’s lemons. Whether you make lemonade or salad dressing is entirely up to you.