Finding joy in 2019 requires a relentless capacity for hope and the persistence to scroll past endless hand-sized headlines about the world’s end. One of the more joyful moments of the year happened at this year’s Academy Awards where Best Song winner Lady Gaga gave the mic to “Shallow”’s producer, the Mark Ronson. Like Adele handing Greg Kurstin the mic at the 2017 Grammys, Gaga’s gesture felt an appropriate nod to a somewhat obscure musical figure that shaped musical history over the past two decades. Ronson usually seems to prefer the obscurity, but such a moment reminded the world of a musician with a startlingly impressive resume. His string of LPs begins with features from Sean Paul and Q-Tip, segueing to Lily Allen and Santigold on later efforts, eventually leading to chart-topping success with Bruno Mars; if you include Ronson’s production discography, he appears to have had his hand in nearly every facet of music for nearly 20 years.

Pitchfork took a look at the phenomenon of those like Ronson, producers who take a more prominent stance in the distribution of their work. Calvin Harris and Diplo come to mind as well: figures who also garnered acclaim for drawing upon sounds of the past. Just look to Diplo’s and Charli XCX’s recent Spice Girls homage or Funk Wave-era Harris; both efforts channel ‘90s pop and retro funk respectively. Ronson, too, borrows from the past, whether reviving the Wall of Sound for Back to Black or Morris Day for “Uptown Funk.” So it stands to reason that like Ronson, Late Night Feelings exhibits characteristics from a multitude of references.

For example, “Truth” places a West Coast rapper over a soulful, East Coast hip-hop production with a chorus that strongly resembles that of Selena Gomez’s “Same Old Love.” On one record, Ronson demonstrates the omnivorous taste of himself and the music industry at large. It’s as if all these elements coalesce to overshadow the heartbreak, but even the intertwining of funk and indie rock can’t hide Angel Olsen’s grief on “True Blue.”
Like the album title, heartbreak tightens its grip without warning or mercy. Instead of waiting for its hold to take, Late Night Feelings keeps busy by keeping moving, the first three full tracks all set at a galloping pace. The title track runs on the energy of late night anxiety and spruces it up in a disco outfit, a quality also heard on “Pieces of Us” and its Muna-esque ability to turn grief into a chance to groove. The strongest of the three is “Find U Again” where Camila Cabello finds catharsis through a thick sheen of vocoder.

Taking in mind the recent surge of country sensibilities in pop music, Late Night Feelings reflects bits of this as well. An obvious example occurs on the Miley melodrama of “Nothing Breaks Like A Heart,” putting Cyrus onto the Oregon trail that listeners wanted more of after hearing Bangerz’s “4×4.” Nashville native Yebba flairs her own twang on no less than three tracks, hitting a peak on the resilient and blues rock-tinged “When U Went Away.” On a less direct level, Lykke Li’s lilting inflection on “2AM” coupled with a soft acoustic guitar lends an Americana element to this downer of a track. It all demonstrates, and comes back to, Ronson’s ubiquitous place in popular music: it cannot escape him, and he cannot escape it.

Other inescapable qualities of the album are its derivative and sometimes repetitive nature. Upbeat tracks tend to follow similar patterns in sound and subject matter, meaning their identities often blend together. Coupled with the fact that much of Late Night Feelings draws from the past, this blandness can make the album feel like less of a triumph. “Spinning” vocalist Ilsey delivers a pretty strong Lykke Li impression, so much so it sounds like an outtake from So Sad So Sexy. Other tracks, including “Why Try,” lack enough personality from either Ronson or their feature vocalist to really stand out, though this album does deserve praise for shining a spotlight on the underrated Diana Gordon.

It innovates a little here and there, but the strength of Late Night Feelings comes largely from the relief it provides. Instead of curing your sorrow, Ronson offers mutual commiseration as a chance for inspiration and escape. He shares his influences the way the album shares its feelings: candidly. The album’s disco-centered heart and supplementary blues rock influences allow Ronson to tap into his interests, his talent and his pain simultaneously. Grief sticks around, but so did disco despite others’ best efforts. Such a juxtaposition speaks to the powerful sway of the past on the present. Leave it to a maestro like Ronson to find the connecting threads and know just how to pluck them.

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