Erika De Casier found an escape in pop music when she was growing up. Born in Portugal to a Belgian mother and Cape Verdean father, she moved at the age of 10 to the tiny Danish village of Ribe, where she and her brother were some of the only mixed-race kids in school. Music became not just a refuge but a mirror: “MTV was the only place where I saw other Black people,” she would later recall. In high school, de Casier discovered the local library’s music section, checking out CDs by artists like Erykah Badu, N.E.R.D., and Destiny’s Child and playing them obsessively. After graduating, as de Casier taught herself music production in her bedroom, she learned to sing in a whisper, to avoid disturbing her flatmates.
De Casier is not the first singer to tiptoe into her preferred vocal register via the exigencies of cohabitation. But where Romy Madley-Croft’s tone on the xx’s debut album telegraphed a painful shyness, de Casier has put her breathy purr to different ends: seductive, playful, and sneakily powerful. It requires listeners to lean in and pay attention. That’s the effect that de Casier has on Sensational, her second solo album. Nestled within a bed of the featheriest R&B imaginable, she is a quietly commanding presence with a few tricks up her sleeve.
Heavily inspired by ’90s and ’00s R&B. Sade’s Love Deluxe and Lovers Rock are obvious touchstones, along with Brandy’s Never Say Never and Craig David’s Born to Do It. Working with her frequent co-producer Natal Zaks (aka DJ Central, of Aarhus, Denmark’s Regelbau collective), de Casier employs the hallmarks of the era’s production: sparkling acoustic guitar, bone-dry shakers and rimshots, and, beneath it all, voluptuous sub-bass that mimics the wooziness of desire.