The stark contrast between the two eras of Georgia Barnes’s musical output to date can be seen even in the cover art for her albums. Whereas her 2015 self-titled debut album as Georgia was adorned with a contemplative, monochromatic sleeve depicting Barnes in a brooding pose, its follow-up bears the full-colour work of London-based American photographer Nancy Honey. Both are equally striking as they perfectly convey the moods expressed therein. If Georgia was the soundtrack to an insular late-night comedown, its successor is the polar opposite, with Barnes diving into the realm of sophisticated pop.
As you would expect from someone who got her start as a drummer (she’s been behind the kit for the likes of Kate Tempest and Kwes), there’s a strong sense of rhythm running through her work; on her debut, the likes of the confrontational ‘Move Systems’ and clamorous ‘Be Ache’ were bolstered by minimalistic melodies countered by percussive blasts – music to be moved by, but not necessarily move to. Seeking Thrills, on the other hand, sees Barnes tapping into the more immediate side of her music while being sure to take just enough of her self-titled record’s attitude with her that there’s a clear throughline from there to here; sure, the overall sound might be more expansive but the grit threaded through her self-titled record is present and accounted for.
Barnes has fully committed to incisive pop songwriting this time around, with the lovelorn rush of ‘Started Out’ kicking off the album with aplomb and a bright, shimmering sound that’s buoyed by its crisp production, before being quickly followed by ‘About Work the Dancefloor’, which provides the record’s mission statement: Seeking Thrills, and the exploration of said thrills; its hook might seem awkward written down (“I was just thinking about work the dancefloor”), but while its meaning is obscured, its intent is clear: this is a song made to get people moving, filled to the brim with club-ready catharsis. The album’s opening pair sets a high bar, but both quality and quantity are on offer here. You’ll find no shortage of euphoria across its 12 tracks – releasing the record right at the start of the year was a shrewd move, as it’ll help rid just about anyone of their January blues.
Aside from the strength of the songs themselves, the album’s cohesive nature is another selling point; the diversity of sound heard on its predecessor is very much intact but it all holds together with ease. ‘Never Let You Go’ takes its cue from Georgia standout ‘Nothing Solutions’, doubles the tempo and thrives on tension and release for four minutes, the bass-driven groove of its verses contrasting sharply with the soaring, synth-flecked chorus. The moody churn of ‘Mellow’, meanwhile (backed up by a guest verse from East Londoner Shygirl, AKA Blane Muise) – the one song here that could fit in on the self-titled album with no issue – provides the link between where Barnes has been and where she’s going, with lyrics telling of the dangers of overindulgence on a night out, set to an appropriately unsettling soundtrack that still displays the pop nous that’s all over the record.
‘Til I Own It’ follows, offering a sharp left turn into psychedelic pop territory, adding another string to Barnes’s now and cueing up the second half of the record before taking the listener on another detour. ‘Feel It’ and ‘Ray Guns’ are harder-edged in comparison, displaying Barnes’s willingness to combine previous and newfound aspects of her constantly evolving sound, before quasi-title track ‘The Thrill’ and sumptuous closer ‘Honey Dripping Sky’ bring the curtain down on the record while offering further surprises. The former features arguably the album’s best hook – no mean feat – pushing it to a late peak before cuts loose with a well-earned drop around three minutes in. The latter is the closest the set comes to a full-on ballad, though it’s hardly the token slow song on an album that’s otherwise concerned with uplift – it’s simply another display of Barnes’s skill.
Best listened to as a whole, Seeking Thrills manages to be both accessible and experimental; musically, it’s all over the map, but everything works so well because of the talent behind it. It was five years in the making, and it sounds like it, with every aspect of Georgia Barnes’s sound refined and enhanced since last we heard from her. Her debut was no slouch, but her second album is the furthest thing from difficult, with her songwriting chops on show throughout. It’s the sort of jump in quality that marks her out as one of 2020’s hottest prospects, and on this evidence, the year’s hers for the taking. Get ready to be thrilled.