Stella Chronopoulou’s first two albums sagely predicted the intense disregard for genre that overtook pop music late last decade. Her self-titled 2015 debut and 2017 sophomore album Works for You occupied intriguing, idiosyncratic realms that combined the seemingly incompatible strands of disco basslines, equally dream-pop and arena-ready guitar lines and Stella Chronopoulou’s soulful, tender warble. Those LPs presented her as a classification-defying narrator of stories at once dear to her heart and vague enough that listeners could project their own tales onto hers. Between the latter of those records and her new release The Break, Chronopoulou found herself, as her bio states, “moving from one place to another, musically and personally.” Throughout The Break, she navigates the self-described “inner break” behind this motion and channels her longtime sonic influences into her most self-assured, level-headed LP to date.
The Break’s lead single exemplifies this increased confidence. “Samba,” which is distinctly not a samba song, wraps Chronopoulou’s signature midtempo funk in a sharper sheen. The track’s initial anti-capitalist screed veils an escapist refrain: “I live in a drama and I’m dancing to samba / Like there’s no return,” Chronopoulou sings, desperate to break from her circumstances. Subsequent single “The Race” continues down this path, with sticky-sweet, flute-like sounds leading Chronopoulou through an array of effusive drum machines and shimmying bass as she seeks a getaway “far from the heavens, away from the race.” Both songs epitomize The Break’s gentle charm: Its songs are crusted with danceability, but as you cut deeper into the pie, Chronopoulou’s poignant, twilit tales of breaking from her status quo permeate her effortlessly deep, warm voice, which in turn restrains her funk under a comforting, introspective quilt.
The Break finds its highs when it approaches its most gyrating asymptotes. On “Forest,” guitar harmonies calmly aiming for the stratosphere cave to a body-rocking but coiled bass pulse and strobing synths as Chronopoulou barely holds together her excitement at breaking away with a potential new partner. That same excitement is present from the very outset of “Simon Says,” an opus of dream pop, funk and soul. Throughout the song, Chronopoulou never takes her foot off the gas pedal, even though her stoic beckon suppresses the song’s constant approaching of full-bore bombast. The title track feels summoned from some other realm where cowboy yodels and fiddles have always existed alongside glassy synth stabs. Yet it somehow never entirely flies off the page, even as Chronopoulou sings one of the LP’s most kinetic lyrics: “You dance to the beat / In an unfamiliar street.”
Chronopoulou pens The Break’s strongest melodies while letting diverse genres swallow one another whole. The LP’s last four songs, though, entirely swallow one another whole, slightly muting the album’s landing. Chronopoulou is nevertheless wise enough to precede this minor dip with “I’m Alone,” a tapestry of mildly psychedelic funk on which her yelps of “I’m alone!” almost sound like “I’m in love!” Here too, her initial presentation hides deeper layers: Can she really dream of getting married in a chapel while shouting about her solitude? Are being alone and in love one and the same? Untangling these notions resembles separating the distinct genres in Chronopoulou’s grab-bag, and after only a minor combing-through, it’s impossible not to see the beating heart behind her big break.