This isn’t some kind of conservationist concept album.
If all you know about Jayda Guy is that she recorded for 1080p prior to signing with Ninja Tune, you might expect her to trade in a distinctly Canadian style of house music: bleary, stoned, based mostly on woozy chords and VHS-caliber sound quality, wary of the excitement that defined the genre’s embryonic form as an evolution of disco. By contrast, Guy’s music as Jayda G is proud of its lineage. Her debut long-player Significant Changes is made of sharp edges and clear lines and seems designed to sound good over big club speakers. She even has her own handbag-house diva on call, the fabulous Alexa Dash. The one snarky joke they make at house music’s expense is a pretty funny one. “Push! Pull! It’s antithetical,” Dash screams, parodying instructional dance records with a nifty paradox.
There’s another interesting angle. Guy is a marine biologist specializing in Canada’s threatened killer whales, and she recorded Significant Changes while finishing a paper on the effects of certain chemicals on the animals. We hear their piteous cries on track four, “Orca’s Reprise.” I’m no biologist, but to me the creatures sound frightened, helpless, in need of a friend. More cause for alarm comes on the next track, “Missy Knows Best,” as biologist Misty MacDuffee (misspelled in the track title, but “Missy” is more alliterative) steps up to the mic. “Why are these whales threatened, and what can we do about it?” she intones gravely as Guy fucks playfully with her voice. She doesn’t give us an answer, but she doesn’t pretend to, either. She gets us thinking.
This is the Midtown 120 Blues approach to political music, denying us disco goodness until we can get down with the message. Saving the whales is more palatable than DJ Sprinkles’ thesis that dance music is the music of suffering, of course, and a listener who might not even know Canada’s orcas are in trouble might hazard a Google search to see what they can do to help. Guy sees no discrepancy between her two hustles and, in fact, considers it her duty to your booty to combine the two. Her platform as a DJ is far bigger than her platform as a scientist, so why not use it to get the word out?
This isn’t some kind of conservationist concept album. Most of it is functional, jacking house not far removed from its roots in New York and Chicago clubs. Its lyrics are mostly exhortations to work it and twerk it. But whether or not the echoed duet on “Sunshine in the Valley” is meant to imitate echolocation, the whale is an apt animal for this music. Since the decline of commercial whaling and the rise of the modern conservation movement, the whale’s reputation has shifted from a fearsome Biblical leviathan of boundless appetite to a cute sea-cow deserving of a cuddle. Its status in popular culture can be neatly summed up by the fact that the aggressively twee indie-pop band Superorganism uses the great beast as its mascot, placing balloons in its likeness around the spaces in which they perform. (Perhaps you remember Freelance Whales, too.)
And there’s definitely something cuddly about Jayda G’s music. The great strength of Significant Changes outside the dancefloor, aside from its simple funkiness and good spirits, is its benevolence. Aside from the tangible good it could do as a conservationist artifact, it’s totally sincere and upbeat, and Guy comes off as a genuinely sweet person. There’s a song where she scolds us to get off Instagram and head to the dancefloor, and it’s delivered not as a harsh rebuke but in a good-natured tone that suggests you’re a good friend of hers and staring at the phone in the club is a longtime habit you haven’t broken. She has faith in us.