If it feels like we’ve been waiting years for the debut album of house musician Cassy, that’s because we have been.
She’s been creating music for nearly fifteen years, having a breakout (to me) in 2005 with her single “Night To Remember.” The song is a mixture of haunting vulnerableness with housey connections. It’s from the female point of view that was created in a time when female electronic artists were an extreme novelty. By 2012, word came out that a new album was on the way and, by the end of 2013, that album never arrived. As it happens in the genre, we had to put our dreams to sleep at the end of the electronic circle of light, where albums are talked about but never seen, where Cassy nests as an exclusively intermittent singles artist. That’s just how it is.
Then Donna hit, her June released debut album with Aus. It is the unthinkable: all new songs instead of a collection of ragtag singles that are without vision, solely for hungry listeners. Instead, Cassy went all in and created an entirely new, fully formed house of her own. And what does it sound like? Her: a distinctly female house record, something that feels singular and different and not like anything that has been put out yet. She creates a safe space for female electronic musicians and enthusiasts to come and share their beats.
The album starts off with “This Is How We Know” admitting, to a lover, that it all—their relationship, this album—felt pushed and pushed and pushed because she knows you were out of love, fooling around. This jumps most directly into her headspace with the tappy, building “Feel,” a song that takes three minutes to rise before Cassy enters to give listeners directions on empathy. “Do you know to feel what I feel?” she asks. “Let me tell you what I feel.” The words echo into the background, revolving in and out of sound, calls on the dance floor to listen to her, to think about her, to engage with her. There is a clear feminist bend, something missing in typical dance floor fair: it’s a song about feeling and understanding each other—and that’s it. There are no other words than the aforementioned lyrics: “Do you know to feel what I feel? Let me tell you what I feel.”
Climbing higher and more directly womanly is “Back,” the album’s lead single, a low and somewhat drawn buzz of a song. “You should know by now,” she says. “There’s no point in looking back.” “Back” serves as an affirmation of the self and for all who have been overlooked: despite history, you can and will overcome. While there is no mention of Donna on Donna, songs like “Back” are dedicated to all women, to the Donnas and beyond: “Back” is a statement of power to not look back, to not ever be afraid, to not apologize. This is all placed within the context of a house song and not in a cheesy, fuzzy, silly way. It’s extremely highbrow dance.
There are more straightforward, “fun” songs like the thumping “All I Do”—about being infatuated with someone—and classic house “Road To Thonon,” a wordless bleeper. Then there are songs like “Strange Relationship,” a funk song thrown into the mix about a love that works despite it being, um, funky. Reprieves like this show Cassy flexing her production skills while creating a new canon. She’s showing off, to court new listeners and new artists to step out with her.
And then there are the latter Donna feminist songs that are about asserting femaleness and house from a minority view. Most obvious is “Keep Trying” which builds a beautiful wonderland off the title’s words. Cassy eventually comes in, adding in her mantra—”Keep trying to feel.”—atop of the muddy tries, to push you forward and to remind you that you can feel like her if you step outside of yourself. As the background voices get more lost in themselves, Cassy moans for you to keep trying. That can be seen as a DJ pushing dancers to dance but, clearly, this is about not giving up and understanding each other.
Near closer “What If” puts her in power, to muse over what if she were making the decisions between her and her partner or friend or manager or whoever. It’s a fantasy song that considers where she and whoever will go over an aggressive cadence. “What if we gave up? What if we took off? What if got lost?” she asks, evolving the song from the immediate her and someone else into the communal, collective: what if we people just stopped doing, what if we smothered ourselves in other’s desires—and let go. “Tell me what is on your mind,” she pleas at the halfway point, a suggestion that on her dance floor, these problems are non-problems.
Yet, the thesis comes three songs before the end: “Without You” is not only the album’s strongest and most Cassy sonically but it tells the direct story of what’s going on here. This is the only song where things are left behind, where relationships are over, where—instead of coming together—Cassy, and the people she speaks for, become confident alone. The song is about living “without you” and is a joyous celebration of what it means to be comfortable in independence. It takes the funkiness of “Strange Relationship” and pushes it onto a bongo based Berlin club.
And “Without You,” of all the songs, makes it known that Donna is fine being alone as a masterpiece over a decade in the making. It’s an album that stands by itself in its beliefs and doesn’t toy around with trying to be aggressive in its femininity. It just is because Cassy is. There are so many rewards on this album because it is based in so many victories. Cassy has defined a new era in house music that has been a long time coming: the dawn of club music from the female point of view, something that should already exist but somehow has been lost in assimilation. Cassy has made it clear that we’re in a different time with a different house to go with it—and that house is female focused.