MICHELLE Grow Up, but Stay Connected on AFTER DINNER WE TALK DREAMS
The New York collective's sound is as cohesive as ever on their sophomore albumMusic Reviews MICHELLE
Few albums evoke a time and place like MICHELLE’s debut record HEATWAVE, an R&B- and hip-hop-infused listen that is essentially a New York summer in aural form. The collective’s lyrics tap into all of the senses—the taste of street cart mango, the overpowering odors of garbage and urine, the sticky heat of the city on your skin—and transport you to a cramped subway car, sweat dripping down your back as you head to the next show. HEATWAVE is about more than the city that never sleeps, though, capturing “every member of MICHELLE as a person at the end of their youth,” as band member Charlie Kilgore noted in press materials. Sofia D’Angelo, Julian Kaufman, Kilgore, Layla Ku, Emma Lee and Jamee Lockard are native New Yorkers, bound together by geography and friendship. Four years after their debut, the collective is releasing their sophomore effort, AFTER DINNER WE TALK DREAMS, which Kilgore said is about their “transition to adulthood.”
AFTER DINNER WE TALK DREAMS feels like a natural progression for the band, with the distinctive throughlines of their love for one another and their city (as well as other topics) connecting the two records even as the band members grow up. On HEATWAVE’s final track, “2.25” (a reference to subway fare), the group profess their love of New York, warts and all: “Smells like trash and piss, but I know that’s never gonna change.” Their sophomore album closer “MY FRIENDS” sees the group reaffirming their connection to their hometown, but also to each other—“They look like Brooklyn, that’s where I found them”—before going out on wistful piano and horns.
The self-care slow jam “NO SIGNAL” seems to be in direct conversation with HEATWAVE’s “GET OFF UR PHONE.” “Tryna get connected? I don’t need no WiFi,” they sing on “GET OFF UR PHONE,” imploring another person to unplug so they can bond IRL. “NO SIGNAL” takes this to the next level, with the band declaring that they want “No signal phone down off the grid,” and that “Away with myself, I’ll find what matters.” Over the last four years, they’ve discovered that disconnecting from the digital world not only fosters relationships, but also clarifies one’s sense of self. The sway-worthy “EXPIRATION DATE,” featuring hooky stepping stone vocals on the chorus, follows on from the HEATWAVE track “LOVE UR NAME,” both songs focusing on a romance that you know may not last, but that still overwhelms you from head to toe.
AFTER DINNER WE TALK DREAMS is a sonically cohesive listen, which is all the more impressive when considering that the album came together after three years of stop-and-start writing. While this means that some songs get lost in the shuffle, a little too same-y for the casual listener, on the whole, the 14 tracks blossom with chill bangers that make the most of MICHELLE’s honeyed vocals. “SYNCOPATE” is an irresistible bop, refusing to beat around the bush about sexual desire: “It’s my body—I need you in it.” Clocking in at just under two minutes, “SYNCOPATE” is the song to draw in any soon-to-be MICHELLE converts. The throbbing neon synth on “POSE” invites the listener to dance like nobody’s watching, whether you’re in the middle of a club or blasting music at home (and it deserves to take off on TikTok with their catchy delivery of “pose one, pose two, pose three”).
Listening to the record, it’s so clear how much fun the band have writing and performing together. “TALKING TO MYSELF” has hints of Corinne Bailey Rae, thanks to sunny guitar and lyrics like, “You can keep the toaster / Leave me with the breadcrumbs,” but bubbly synth and goofy vocalization at the end mark the song as undeniably MICHELLE’s. Lines of “LAYLA IN THE ROCKET” are punctuated by an enthusiastic “HEY!” or starry synths pulling you into the stratosphere. The funk-laden “END OF THE WORLD” touches on Gen Z’s fascination with the early-’00s aesthetic (“Y2K, fuck me like the end of the world”) and their desire to enjoy the world despite impending doom (“City’s crumbling but I don’t mind / I think you’re hotter than the burning sky”). It’s a bouncy fuck-you to defeatism, a hedonistic cry of joy.
MICHELLE are one of the most underrated New York bands of the last few years, but hopefully their exquisite harmonies and groovy pop hooks on AFTER DINNER WE TALK DREAMS will draw in new fans. By connecting so well with one another, MICHELLE reach listeners in a singular and effortlessly listenable way.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.