The debut full-length album from Marian Hill, 2016's Act One, deftly showcases the Philadelphia duo's somewhat arty, stripped-down R&B. Featuring the talents of producer Jeremy Lloyd and vocalist Samantha Gongol, Marian Hill also benefits from the contributions of jazz saxophonist Steve Davit, who appears throughout. Centered on Gongol's lithe vocals, the duo make a minimalist brand of pop-R&B built around robotic beats, chilly synth hits, and Davit's Cubist post-bop sax lines that often sound as if they've been sampled and spliced into the mix. One gets the sense that Marian Hill are aiming for an aesthetic somewhere along the lines of Beyonc? making an album with '80s electronic outfit Art of Noise. Occasionally they come close, and cuts like "Talk to Me" and "Take Your Time" have a fresh, kinetic energy that captures the band's art-school inclinations and catchy hooks. Elsewhere, tracks like "Down" and "Bout You" have a sultry warmth that sounds like a '90s Brandy track remixed down to its barest essential elements. ~ Matt Collar
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