Tyler Mitchell

Abra’s Outsider Pop Thrills

On the lo-fi ’80s sounds of the Atlanta singer’s ‘Princess’ EP

The Darkwave Duchess, as singer and producer Abra likes to call herself, rules from the fringes. When she moved to America after growing up in London, she's said, her British accent threw the other kids off. Abra now runs with the Atlanta rap crew Awful Records, making her the first lady of a boys club where her vintage pop stands in stark contrast with her peers' music. In interviews, Abra often describes herself as an introvert who's happiest holing up in her room to watch horror movies: "I'm just so dorky and not cool," she said in a recent documentary.

For Abra, being an outsider artist is more than just an attitude or a press angle. Her new EP, Princess, is unpolished and sparse — all shaky 808 beats and languid, breathy vocals that sound like they were recorded in one take. Are we meant to think we're hearing a beginner figuring out her technique or a savvy callback to a previous era's raw cool? The ambiguity heightens the intrigue. The result is a lo-fi EP that sounds like a demo ripped directly from the era of Cynthia and Lisa Lisa, with little of the contemporary polish that other revivalists (Dev Hynes, Jessy Lanza, Kelela) bring to their takes on the same genre.

At her best, Abra sounds like a long-forgotten '80s gem, a bedroom pop artist lost to time. Her voice, which at times recalls the sweet vocals of '00s R&B singer Cassie, can turn sinister quickly. "I could be a lotta things, but I ain't your girl," she says in a vampire's stony tone on "Big Boi," over the creep of a sub-bass beat. On the stand-out "Crybaby," Abra turns her heartbreak into a shadowy threat, her vocals wilding out and wailing over syncopated beats. "You're calling me a crybaby? I'll show you a crybaby," she sings. Later in the same song, she sings of having an ocean of emotion inside her, sounding as if she can barely get the words out: "I am not Poseidon, but I ride him in the riptide of love," she howls. Together with the rest of Princess, it's a uniquely promising start.