Four years on from her debut, Hope Is Rubbery here we have USB and Sophie Burbery’s Little Bark persona feels more real – more lived in. Her previous album showed both sides of her musical agenda (then), one half as Bark, one half as Burbery, now we we have the Little Bark sound fleshed out across an album. It’s a set of dance-pop/synth-pop songs that you’re not probably supposed to dance to, or rather there’s no suggestion that any of this was ever for the dancefloor so much as it has come from that dancefloor; the templates are Cyndi Lauper and Vangelis and Moroder and Bat For Lashes and though this trades in those water-colour circles of modern bedsit production it doesn’t have that murky, detached, less-than-full sound. It’s expansive, widescreen, dynamic.
We open with Modern Love, one of the few attempts at anthem – it’s followed by YouTube Me and we’re already moving toward the comedown, glorious waterfalls of 3am reverie – the candles are all blown out but the karaoke microphone of the night is still plugged in, there’s a torch song to be sung.
A lot of USB plays out like Devonte Hynes’ recent soundtrack work. Wonderful hooks hide inside the songs, Arpeggiator is Moroder-by-candelight, New Day is a smudged pastel sketch of a song, Poly is Cyndi Lauper’s All Through The Night and Human League’s Human and so many 80s movie soundtrack textures all vying for space in one taut three minute ballad. The ideas in these songs – the shaping of the tracks – it’s all been perfectly realised, beautifully refined, trial and error and not just a found-sound arrived at by fluke. You get that feeling with a lot of this type of music-masquerading-as-muzak-hoping-to-still-be-serious-music. But USB is the sound of an artist, an actual artist, someone following aesthetic guidelines, someone so sure that what they’re creating is what they want to make, not just a hit-and-hope/press-play-add-hype song setting.
And the closing Crystal Ball is the perfect realisation of Burbery’s goals as Little Bark – it’s full to bursting as nearly emotionally-overwhelming modern-pop torch ballad. USB won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but its highs are all the more glorious for that fact.