As the coolly altered colors of the cover art indicate, Katy B’s On a Mission is euphoric without aggression. It’s awash in the newness of discovery, and represents the perfect confluence of elements that all but transcends any single camp. This isn’t merely a house album, a pop album, a dubstep album, or an R&B album. It’s a bright, cheerfully mainstream-friendly record that’s almost completely built from the ingredients of much darker, grimier dance music subcultures in a way that recalls the sunnier moments of Basement Jaxx, or Kathy Diamond’s Maurice Fulton-guided retro jaunt through the Loft on Miss Diamond to You.
But softer still. On a Mission is a glowstick Alice in Wonderland, a tour of sensations as narrated by an emotionally reserved young girl whose “curiouser and curiouser” reactions ultimately wind up giving in to the moment, hungry for the next chapter. Completely written by Katy B and producers Geeneus, Zinc, Benga, and Magnetic Man, On a Mission comes off a bit more like a sampler or scrapbook than a nuanced experience, but if the trade-off is a dozen lovely, bite-sized chunks of club bliss, there’s absolutely no reason to carp.
The album hits the ground running with a few Axel F-reminiscent synth tones that quickly snap into the walking, deep bassline of “Power on Me,” which seems a tad unsure of its own menacing environment until Katy B’s “oooooh”-ing chorus baptizes the album’s pleasure principle. She’s on a mission indeed, and “Katy on a Mission” literalizes the pursuit with its hard-driving tempo and dubstep overlays. “Keep up with me as we lose control,” she instructs, leading her companion directly to that point in the room where the subwoofers rearrange your molecules and you become one with the music. “Witches’ Brew” and “Movement” keep the intoxication levels at a peak, the former absolutely saturated in synthesizer arpeggios and the latter riding a sophisticated sequence of airy rising scales.
In less than 10 minutes, On a Mission has already turned out some of the smartest dumb music in years. And still Katy B’s message rarely strays from the mantra “girls just wanna have fun.” You don’t get much more from her personality by the time she’s rolling out a series of interchangeable thank-you shout-outs over the tail-end of “Hard to Get” (a pitch-perfect, clattering deep-house number with gorgeous 4-a.m. chord undulations), but that’s exactly the effect On a Mission seems to be going for. It’s an album that only aims to give off the sensation of having rubbed up, briefly, against someone incredibly attractive on the dance floor and having the chance, missed encounter resonate for days afterward.