After almost three years after her much-lauded debut album, 2009’s Hands, Victoria Hesketh’s second album abounds with the same propensities for hip-shaking disco jams that made Hesketh, a.k.a. Little Boots, a pop star. Her first album, Hands, garnered Hesketh that year’s BBC Sound of… poll, beating out big names such as Lady Gaga, Florence + The Machine and her rival for the longest-wait-for-second-album title, La Roux. With critics and industry figures hailing her as an act to watch out for, Hands did not disappoint with its pulsing rhythmic jams such as “Meddle“ and “Mathematics”, the RedOne-produced dance-floor incendiary “Remedy”, or her collab with The Human League’s Philip Oakey on the banging “Symmetry”. In short, it was ridiculously good. Talks with her former label, Atlantic, stonewalled Hesketh’s efforts to release new material due to creative differences, thus forcing her to do things on her own. It explains the lengthy wait for her second album, the glimmering Nocturnes, out on Hesketh’s own label, On Repeat.
Though the wait has been long, things haven’t drastically changed: the focus is still on 90s-insipired disco and house that just so happen to be insanely catchy. What has changed is enhanced production courtesy of DFA Records’ Tim Goldsworthy and James Ford (Florence + The Machine, Arctic Monkeys, Klaxons) as well as streamlined stylistic elements that do away with the uneven sonic terrain of Hands and smoothens Nocturnes into a silky current of velvet. Nocturnes comes together as a well-knit celebration of throwbacks to disco and the hey-day of house, from the groovy keyboards and sashaying horns on “Beat Beat” to the terrifyingly monstrous banger, “Shake”. The latter is the album’s most glorious gem, its pulsating beats giving rise to a frenzied detonation of jive-inducing calls for manic euphoria on the dance-floor. The bounce in the opening bars of “Shake” is amplified and the entire track shortened by about a minute from when it was last released as a single almost two (TWO!) years ago, however the album version remains just as effective. The moody “Motorway” opens the album, inviting the listener to drive away and make a great escape as the song’s fictional car – think disused, relic Cadillac jump-started to life by the errant beams of a mystical disco ball of light –effortlessly steers into the horizon of yesteryear as the setting sun dims.
All throughout Nocturnes, its Hesketh’s songwriting and attunement to rhythm honed by her regular stints in the DJ booth that keep the shimmering disco ball spinning. The beats are fresh whilst staying true to Hesketh’s influences of dance from an era gone; it’s the way the two sounds from opposite ends of a timeline are fused so seamlessly that prove to be Nocturnes’ subtle forte. The house piano line of “Every Night I Say A Prayer” blends impeccably with the noisy, echoing synths that play when the chorus kicks in. As Hesketh’s proclaims to have “seen into the future!”, one can’t help but believe she has, and with Hercules & Love Affair’s Andy Butler producing, it’s no wonder the number is simply superb.
Standout “Crescendo” feels like an ABBA hit from an alternate universe where the Swedish band are an intergalactic group tasked with bringing pop excellence to worlds plagued by brutish ogres like Pitbull. The track builds its own crescendo with layered vocals, a new layer added atop the others as the song progresses. The layers are all pulled back during the pre-bridge when Hesketh asks “Can we stop and talk it over? Instead of talking over ourselves?”. Hesketh’s solitary vocals are joined once more by a choir of understated power and the track blossoms in resplendent brilliance. Dance anthem “Broken Record” alludes to her previous hit “Stuck On Repeat” in its nuanced vocal effects, while incorporating a futuristic bridge that resembles, but surpasses will.i.am in taste, class and most every other category imaginable.
Granted her last album, Hands, had higher highs with stellar cuts such as “Symmetry”, “No Brakes” or the Robyn-esque “Tune Into My Heart”, but Nocturnes is arguably a feat with less patchier bits and a grander sense of character, with a consistently solid output spread equally amongst the album’s 10 tracks. Where Hesketh’s debut saw her channel Madonna and Minogue, it’s on Nocturnes that Little Boots comes out into her own, shining her iridescent pop tunes onto our analogical mystical disco ball with dazzling brightness. Now all it takes is for more people to catch the light.