SG Lewis’ debut LP asserts his status as one of the sharpest talents of modern ‘times’ [Album Review]
“I never saw myself being on a stage or performing,” a 24-year-old SG Lewis stated in a 2018 interview, reflecting on his enrollment in the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) for sound engineering.
“I was a bit introverted back then, so the idea of being behind the scenes but still involved in making popular records seemed like a really cool job,” explained Lewis, who’d released Dawn on November 9, 2018, just a little over a month before his responses would run on GQ Britain.
Nearly three years later, the times they are a-changin’, and SG Lewis isn’t in the background—he’s front and center, at the heart of it all.
The Liverpool-hailing producer-turned-singer/songwriter—though, it’s possible to see it in the reverse, too—baited and hooked listeners with his concept-driven triptych, Dusk, Dark, Dawn, consecutively released between April 2018 and June 2019. Many listeners experienced the SG awakening during this span, and among those who did, the sentiment was unanimous: this three-part series not only bespoke the presence of a discerning talent, but also forecast more attention-warranting material to come. It’s February 19, 2021, the release date of Lewis’ debut album, and—not coincidentally—it’s the date that this earlier hypothesis rings true, across 10 tracks.
Among this 10 are five times-preceding singles that are largely responsible for ensnaring those who were late to the SG party, those who maybe missed Dusk, Dark, Dawn in release real-time: “Chemicals,” “Impact,” “Feed The Fire,” “Time,” and the album rollout’s speculative finale, “One More.” Radiating a sun-soaked personality that conferred can’t-possibly-skip-this-song status to it, “Chemicals” surfaced in April of 2020. Carrying Lewis’ own vocals, the psychedelically sexy single appeared a standalone for some time. Little did SG’s bandwagon of believers know, it would be the first times single to burst out the gate—and you don’t need Dancing Astronaut to tell you that it did so with unbridled boldness.
The times train chugged forth thereafter, taking on a disco tint that deepened with the release of each album single, and picking up early accolades along the way, with” Impact’s” award of “Hottest Record on BBC Radio 1” distinction not to be ignored. SG Lewis songs vaulted to the radio and to individual users’ stories on social media platforms, and this tradition is only expected to continue with the full-fledged descent of times.
The author of this feature unabashedly declares the following: times affirms that Lewis is a triple-threat multi-instrumentalist who, in the short period of times‘ rollout alone, has managed to captivate the electronic scene with the depth of his artistic identity. And, this considered, it’s one of the freshest, most dynamic bodies of work that the dance context can expect to receive this year.
times is an often effervescent and unceasingly cerebral body of work that sometimes playfully, sometimes contemplatively, explores the intersection of disco and contemporary dance. What might come next for SG after times is a question that the LP invokes, and it’s one that doesn’t come to mind without a certain rush. Why think about what might take place in the post-times period on the very date of the album’s release? The answer is simple: times is immersive, a project to return to again and again and over again, that—and this part is critical—sounds like it’s just the beginning of Lewis’ recognition as one of the electronic genre’s most-esteemed assets.
There’s much to be said about “Chemicals,” “Impact,” “Feed The Fire,” “Time,” and “One More,” inclusions conceptualized seemingly only to soundtrack our respective lives’ serotonin rushes, and the same is true of times‘ completing five, “Back To Earth,” “Heartbreak On The Dancefloor,” “Rosners Interlude,” “All We Have,” and “Fall.” Dancing Astronaut isolates each and what, specifically, this previously unheard family of five adds to times.
“Back To Earth” — times‘ feel-good salutation to Lewis’ vocals
“Time” and “Feed The Fire” introduce listeners to times across the album’s first and second tracklistings, respectively. Something delightfully unfamiliar floods through the speakers as the “Feed The Fire’s” runtime ticks down and track two fluidly transitions to track three. Is it just me, or are your fingers also on the volume button, turning it to the right in time with mine? If taking the risk of disturbing the neighbors on the other side of my apartment’s walls is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.
“Back To Earth” is not only best enjoyed at maximum speaker capacity, but also seems infallible in its ability to induce even the slightest movement, thanks in part to its irresistible rhythm. That Lewis’ vocals land on “Back To Earth” is just the cherry atop the sonic sundae. “Back To Earth” constitutes the debut of Lewis’ vocals on times, and they burst into the broader picture of the LP with presence.
Streamers should expect more of just that as they work their way through the tracklist, as Lewis tipped off Dancing Astronaut in November of 2020. In our interview with the British sweetheart at the time, Lewis said of his vocal aspirations for times,
“There was this kind of personal growth that I wanted to undergo in order for this album to be something that I felt incredibly proud of. I wanted to do things that I hadn’t done before and push myself outside of my comfort zone, so I ended up singing on over or about half the album. In the past, I’ve sang on like one or two tracks on projects. To have a large bulk of the vocals on the album be my own has been just really hugely rewarding and a huge challenge.”
“Heartbreak On The Dancefloor” —a filmy emotional intermission
“Pick my poison, and you’re right there.”
With these seven opening lyrics, SG sends us a signal: with the vocal assistance of Frances, he’s going to tell us a wistful story—and it’s going to hurt just right.
Frances’ first-person narrative of a tangle in the heartstrings takes on an ’80s meets old-school disco feel in its technics, but the one-size-fits-all experience of which she sings is timeless. Amid the glittering highs of times, “HBOTDF”—as Lewis calls it—grounds listeners, catalyzing a three-minute and 16-second check-in with a different type of emotion than that which largely pervades times. It’s a bittersweet intermission, emphasis on the “sweet.”
“Rosners Interlude” —Lewis pays homage
At the sixth times tracklisting, your future disco engine is revving, as it should be. SG has warmed you up with four features (cc Rhye, Lucky Daye, Nile Rodgers, and Frances) and two of his own starring roles, after all, and at the heart of times, he presses pause to pay tribute to Alex Rosner, the audio engineer who proves the namesake of “Rosners Interlude.”
Rosner is recognized as the developer of the first-ever stereo DJ mixer. He’s also credited with developing several of the sound systems deployed in some of New York’s early disco clubs. Lewis’ inclusion of a brief clip from a past, hour-long interview with Rosner is a times-contained love note to an influencing figure in the musical movement that today yields times.
“All We Have” —a match made in collaborative heaven
At the tail end of 2020, Dancing Astronaut turned the spotlight on Lastlings, declaring the Aussie electro-pop duo that took the dance space by storm one of our Artists to Watch in 2021. That the brother-sister production pair would hold a six-minute and 50-second meeting of the musical minds with SG Lewis on the latter’s debut album wasn’t something that we expected at the time, but now that the collaborative partnership has been realized, it only further validates our late 2020 call while simultaneously underscoring the harmony of Lewis’ and Amy and Josh Dowdle’s musical sensibilities.
Some collaborative matchups just make sense—SG Lewis and Lastlings are one of them. Give or take 10 seconds, the trinity redefines the concept of “seven minutes in heaven” below.
“Fall —Lewis’ vocals reach their apex
With the crescendo of Lewis’ own vocals, times winds to a viscous close.
The cinematic conclusion to an album that will deservingly define a year in dance music, “Fall” suspends Lewis’ vocals in what is perhaps their most frontal, vulnerable performance to date. The contemplative polish of “Fall,” from its lyrics to its arrangement, bespeaks Lewis’ maturity not only as a vocalist but also as a musician, and with this satiating finale, he does with times what few artists are able to do with an album: leave listeners wanting for nothing.