Kitty (also known as Kitty Pryde) had been making mostly obscure cloud rap for for a number of years with limited exposure up until her EP Frostbite blew up in online pop communities after its release in 2014. Frostbite was a brilliant short little dance-pop proeject that blended wonderful trance-y and electronic instrumentals with frenetic, cloud-rap style vocals. The two opening tracks on Frostbite are some of my all-time favorite pop songs, and the entire thing is incredibly enjoyable to listen to. That EP remains a cult-classic in many of these pop communities online and there was a great amount of hype surrounding Kitty’s debut album. 3 years later, we have Miami Garden Club. For the most part, Miami Garden Club lives up to the hype. It’s an incredibly nocturnal pop album that stays consistent to its atmosphere throughout but manages to maintain enough diversity from track to track that a full listen is satisfying and engaging. There are a number of real highlights here, but on the whole, nothing comes close to the highs from Frostbite. And while there aren’t any songs that I find bad on Miami Garden Club, it’s evident that Kitty was running out of ideas to fill out this album and there are some tracks that feel unnecessary.
However, the overall gripe I have with Miami Garden Club is the same gripe I have with this new wave of what I call conscious-vapid pop music. Ushered in primarily by the PC Music label and bubblegum bass, the trendiest pop music right now is going in the direction of coming across as ultra-vapid or plastic. It is pop music that is designed to be overly instantly gratifying and hyper-aware of the role pop music fills in music. However, there is a very fine line here between being conscious of being shallow or vapid and actually becoming those things. For the most part, I actually think self-realization that pop music is undergoing is fantastic for the genre as a whole, but it is important to remember that pop music is still a melody-first genre. If one is going to pull off the idea that the music is “meta” and aware of itself, it still requires you to start with good pop music. Put another way, it’s very easy to write a parody of a genre, but it is much more difficult to innovate that genre. In the context of Miami Garden Club, that shallowness is overwhelmingly present and incorporated into the overall theme. Most of this album zooms by with chopped up or speedily whispered lyrics and candy-coated synth or drum sounds that only exist for a brief moment in a single song. For the most part this aesthetic benefits the album as a whole by making it exciting and diverse, but on the songs that are less interesting or too similar to others the effect is completely lost. In those moments, Miami Garden Club really does feel empty.
There were a handful of tracks that I felt were the weaker spots of the album for me personally. I found myself skipping “Running Away” and “Sugarwater” quite often in my latter listens, but in general I think each individual will find their own personal melodies on Miami Garden Club that they enjoy more than others. The point is that this album, like many other recent innovative pop projects, is playing with fire by experimenting with that trashy, ephemeral, and intentionally empty aesthetic. It’s an incredibly interesting way of exploring pop music and pushing the genre forward, but it’s very easy to slip into the exact characteristics this new wave of pop is caricaturing. In my opinion, it is most evident on the songs I listed above, which simply feel empty. The gimmick of being aware of the instantly gratifying nature of pop only lasts so long – the staying value of a pop album is that it needs to remain enjoyable to listen to.
Nonetheless, I think the vast majority of Miami Garden Club is incredibly fun to listen to and its a decidedly atmospheric and sonically diverse album. Miami Garden Club feels like it has been dunked into a bowl of nocturnal vibes, and listening to the album straight through is akin to watching a highlight reel of staying out in the city all night. “New Leaf” reminds me of watching city lights fly by on a highway, “Asari Love Song” is the soundtrack to that strange club you stumble into late in the night, and “509 SeaBreeze” feels like sprinting down to the beach at the very end of that night out to watch the sunrise. There are a lot of effects and details in these songs that create and push this nocturnal environment forward. A myriad of synths, diverse sounding drums, and sampled or performed instruments (especially piano) dress these songs in the perfect sound for Kitty to whisper and sing over. Her voice blends into the total sound of the album, which is fine by me. There isn’t much by way of lyrical genius or storytelling here, but the lyrics fit well into the overall aesthetic. The nocturnal atmosphere here is by far my favorite quality of the album, and I completely recommend exploring this in a nocturnal space (especially while driving or out in the city).
Each of the different feelings I described above is a testament to how diverse this album remains even though it all exists in the same world. Even if some of these songs are less enjoyable than others, the album listening experience remains fresh because of how unique each of the songs are. Tracks like “Miami Garden Club” and “Affectionate” are pleasant and relaxing, “Running Away” and “Overpass” are noisier or almost dream-poppy, and “New Leaf” and “Asari Love Song” are crisp and tight dance songs. It is not a surprise to see Kitty excel with so many different song styles given how easy she put together Frostbite, but it’s exciting to have this diversity on Miami Garden Club and it makes me feel confident in whatever she will put out next. I often critique albums in these reviews for either lacking an overall atmosphere or holding too tightly to a given sound. Miami Garden Club strikes the perfect balance.
At the end of the day, there isn’t much to analytically dig into with Miami Garden Club, and that almost feels like the whole point. It’s an album that creates this beautiful and diverse nocturnal atmosphere that feels so much like driving through a massive, lit-up city on a Friday night. The lights and sounds are beautiful, and then they’re gone. On the whole, I’ve been greatly enjoying Miami Garden Club. I find its atmosphere intoxicating and it’s full of a number of songs that I’ll be enjoying for a long time. While at times the less interesting tracks feel bland, they don’t bring down the overall album experience. If you’re looking for the soundtrack to your summer nights, Miami Garden Club is it.