The Galleria, Morgan Geist’s new project with electro-R&B singer Jessy Lanza on vocals, is appropriately named. Mall names are often christened with the term “galleria,” and with the freestyle on Calling Card/Mezzanine the duo pay homage to the height of the relevance of those churches of consumerism.
On “Calling Card” and “Mezzanine,” and their dub counterparts, Geist (Storm Queen and Metro Area) and Lanza recall the best ingredients of the work of artists like the famed New York freestyle band Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam and DJs like Arthur Baker: Kinetic, electronic rhythms, some bubbly, syncopated synth-bass action, a couple pronounced orchestra hits, sharp synth leads, and sweet vocals singing mostly about the folly of love.
Freestyle has its roots in R&B, but it’s also inherently dance-pop, even with its different regional variations. It was one of the most popular 80s genres, with artists like Stevie B, Exposé, and the Information Society, in addition to Lisa Lisa of course, all landing hits — even New Order got in on the action in 1983, when they worked with Baker on “Confusion.”
It also seems to be one of the few popular 80s genres that modern artists haven’t mined extensively. I’d say the closest we’ve gotten to it on the spectrum are the artists inspired by Minneapolis-sound producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and maybe some New Jack Swing.
But The Galleria will hopefully change all of that. The bubblegum heart of these frenetic pop-R&B songs will bring people back to that time when teens liked to drive to malls and hang out — before the cynicism of the 90s made mall shindigs feel more of a chore, or even an offense.
In the 80s, in those indoor shopping centers, which are now inhabited by elderly mall walkers, America’s youth catered to their crushes, caused some trouble, and even ate and bought stuff, under the earnest encouragement of the sweet-voiced songstresses who plied their trades atop some rather bad-ass beats.
Thankfully, The Galleria doesn’t have to bring back the actual consumerism of the malls to bring us back to the joys of our third place. The brilliant songcraft is enough.
Note: I first heard the songs on Geist’s Beats in Space set last week. Check it out.