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Siren, the debut album of Young Summer, aka D.C. singer Bobbie Allen, is no-bullshit pop music, filled with hooky, over-the-top, radio-ready songs with simple romantic messages. But that’s why it works, despite Allen’s current status as a relatively unknown artist. With only one release under her belt, she’s obviously no Hot 99.5 regular. She’s an indie artist, signed to an indie label. But as a testament to pop’s transcendent abilities, as well as to the sounds you can now make even without a major-label budget, Siren sounds as big as anything Lady Gaga or Katy Perry has put out recently, with twice the passion.
Take the chorus on “Sons of Lightning.” “Just let our minds go/ We’ve been here before/ So our souls are not lost,” cries Allen, atop a tidal wave of sweeping, atmospheric keyboards and thundering percussion. On paper it’s a downright ridiculous lyric, something too schlocky to possibly achieve the level of emotionality its trying to incite. But Allen sings it like she means it, her voice straining and stretching itself past the normal, smoky, half-hushed volume it sticks to for most of the record to foster a special, real moment.
While Allen’s words and thematic intent stay within straightforward, earnest pop-music territory, the record’s sonics come from some weirder, more esoteric places. With its booming, dark-wave synthesizers—like on the slow, swooning “Taken” and the string-laden “Severing Ties”—Siren sometimes feels like a lost Eurythmics release, or perhaps a new project by Chromatics production wizard Johnny Jewel.
Either way, the chilly music offers a perfect foil for Allen’s warm vocals, a contrast that works particularly well on the sleepy “Fever Dream,” where Allen’s reverb-tinged voice evokes Beach House’s Victoria Legrand sweetly cutting through the otherwise cold, unsettling melody.
The only real drawback is Siren’s length. Though the gorgeous xylophone flourishes on closing track “Classless Kids” help make it one of the best songs on the record, Allen could have snipped off some of the album’s lesser tracks, particularly the unexciting, piano-backed “Propeller.”
Nonetheless, Siren is a bold record of uncompromising sincerity that reinforces one of pop’s fundamental concepts: Sometimes big emotions require even bigger arrangements.
Young Summer performs Sept. 13 at the All Things Go Fall Classic at Union Market, 1309 5th St NE. $40-$60.