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Dawn Richard & Spencer Zahn


The debut collaborative album from New Orleans electro-revival dynamo Dawn Richard and multi-instrumentalist, producer, and composer Spencer Zahn, Pigments tells the story of finding oneself through dance, self-expression, and community through the lens of New Orleans’ contemporary arts scene. Not strictly neoclassical, jazz, or ambient electronic, the project is one long composition that flows through several “movements” guided by five lead instruments: clarinet, saxophone, guitar, strings, and Richard’s stripped-down vocals. Marking Richard’s first step into the contemporary classical world, Pigments reveals a new facet of her limitless talents and provides a fresh introduction to Zahn, whose intimate, sprawling soundscapes play with principles of open space and motion.

After first collaborating on “Cyanotype” (a song that originally appeared on Zahn’s 2018 debut album People of the Dawn), the two artists wanted to explore making a full-length project that would depart from the celebratory R&B and dance music that Richard is known for, yet keep in line with her love for the experimental and avant-garde. The story that emerged from the new songs was of “someone painting with broken brushes,” she explains. “I felt like the tools that I and other people like me were dealt weren’t shiny. Yet we still painted these beautiful pictures.”

“This album is what it means to be a dreamer and finally reach a place where you’ve decided to love the pigments that you have,” Richard continues. After Pigments flutters open with “Coral,” whose title indicates a solid thorniness, Richard’s voice enters on the second track “Sandstone,” which swells into hopeful fervor as she sings of wanting “to be ‘more than’” and claims her dreams as if they’re reality. The rest of the project snakes through the hypnotic “Vantablack,” whose lyrics about “losing myself in you” are about learning to love your skin as a Black woman, and then into the melancholic “Cerulean,” on which Richard rawly expresses sadness and rage, as she questions to the world, “Are you hurting/Are you hurting me?” Finally, the album funnels into the triumphant “Umber,” on which Richard boldly states her desire to make “real change” as she sings, “I’m gon’ climb this mountain/Till I reach the top.” All the lyrics are minimal and bare, allowing the listener to bring their own feelings and stories to the music.

As Richard’s lyrics outline this emotional journey, the rest of the narrative is told by the instruments that ebb and flow around her tender introspections. Though each instrument has its own theme, they modulate to the key that Dawn is singing in and “provide a new tonal center,” Zahn explains. Like on his 2020 album Sunday Painter, his approach to composition is informed by classic ECM productions and the solo work of Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis, but morphs to incorporate the energy of his collaborators. “I’m not the sole narrator,” Richard adds. “The composition is the story, and we’re just living inside its space.”

In recording, Zahn also focused on capturing the sound of the room and the breath of the players to foster a feeling of spaciousness, as well as acknowledge all the beings who contributed to Pigments. The musicians throughout include Stuart Bogie (clarinet, bass clarinet), Mike Haldeman (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, sampled electronic instruments), Malcolm Parson (cello, violin, viola), Dave Scalia (drums), Kirk Schoenherr (electric guitar), Jas Walton (tenor saxophone, flute), and Doug Wieselman (clarinet, bass clarinet). For Richard, the project as a whole feels like a tribute to her father Frank Richard, lead singer of the funk band Chocolate Milk, who received his master’s degree in classical music theory.

Ultimately, Pigments is a deeply empathetic and compassionate project that opens itself up to both individual reflection and communal connection. Through telling a personal story of resilience and self-actualization, Richard and Zahn create a site of healing and new possibilities for not only themselves, but also the musicians who played on the record, the dancers and crew who contributed to the film, and the listeners at home. “The point is that we’re going through the same thing in different ways,” Richard reflects. “No matter what walks of life we come from, the story can be similar.”



“What a fascinating career Dawn Richard is carving out. With this week’s release of Pigments, her new collaborative album with producer and composer Spencer Zahn, the New Orleans singer-songwriter’s evolution from expressly commercial pop to avant-garde experimentalism is beginning to parallel Scott Walker’s in its unexpected audacity.” – Stereogum, Album of the Week

“Pigments represents a stylistic quantum leap.” – Stereogum, Album of the Week

“It all coheres loosely into a story that’s begging to be acted out on stage in fancy theaters and concert halls while this ensemble plays through the album.” – Stereogum, Album of the Week

“Dawn Richard is the physical embodiment of metamorphosis. Every step in her career path is an unexpected and unpredictable one, with each album release forming a winding road of new sonic thrills.” – Edition

“[Pigments] is more of a sonic escape, with weighty synths, classical strings and shadowy vocals that’ll drift you to a safe space.” – Edition
“Here she is saying my black voice is now a classical voice too” – NPR Music

“[‘Vantablack’ is] an ode to brown skin and it’s rarity and it’s beauty” – NPR Music

“This is an album that really pulls at the emotions” – NPR Music

“Richard isn’t afraid to defy—or in this case, flat-out shatter—expectations.” – Bandcamp

“Pigments is genuinely unusual, in the most wonderful way. Not only does it offer a sharp contrast to Richard’s entire persona, it manages to inventively merge pop songwriting and classical traditions.” – Bandcamp

“If her previous albums proved Richard had the chops for a stadium tour, Pigments suggests that she’s just as ready for the opera house.” – Bandcamp

“[Pigments is] a lot more meditative than Dawn’s own albums, but her airy R&B/soul-infused vocals fit these songs perfectly. It toes the line between a pop-centric jazz album and an experimental pop album, and songs this purely gorgeous should appeal to fans all across that wide spectrum.” – Brooklyn Vegan

“Dawn Richard sidesteps into contemporary classical” – Pitchfork

“In this ECM and Talk Talk inspired collaborative album, the through-line from Richard’s catalog is her vanguard approach to composition and singing” – Pitchfork

“[Dawn & Spencer’s] team-up feels both exciting and natural” – The FADER

“Richard and Zahn paint Pigments with every color on their palettes, and the result is a celebration of art’s infinite possibilities.” – Paste

“Multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer [Spencer] Zahn conjures classical, jazz and ambient electronic soundscapes that fill meditative tracks like “Coral,” “Indigo,” “Opal” and “Cobalt” entirely, but Pigments is at its most potent when Richard’s vocals wander these sonic thickets, journeying in search of love and understanding.” – Paste

“each appearance [Dawn] makes is halting and deeply felt. Everything provided and guided by her partner coalesces into a quietly powerful flowing sequence.” – All Music

“Pigments is not necessarily built for movement, but it’s as moving as any of Richard’s previous output. No other album is quite like it.” – All Music

“Dawn Richard’s Journey From Bad Boy To Indie Pioneer Has Been A Creative Pilgrimage” – Okayplayer

“Pigments is yet another enjoyable showcase of how Richard can bend genres and create beautiful results in the process” – Okayplayer

“Second Line, parallels Pigments with both sounding like religious experiences, digging to the core of Richard as an artist and person.” – Spectrum Culture

“Zahn’s production works best when it has Richard to play off.” – Spectrum Culture

“’Cerulean’ [is] the album’s crown jewel and one of the best moments of musical catharsis in 2022.” – Spectrum Culture

“The album is a lush and vast instrumental work” – Spectrum Culture

“what the two do piece together within the movements of Pigments is, at times, an intimate internal struggle, but with Zahn’s help, it’s given the world-shattering stakes it deserves.” – Spectrum Culture

“a rolling soundscape of soft saxophone melodies, blooming string sections and shimmering ambiance as Richard’s vocals cut through the watercolored fog, floating in and out of focus as the album’s tide ebbs and flows.” – PAPER Magazine

“As Richard sings impressionistic songs of love (and self-love), Zahn’s radiant chamber music works like a prism, splitting her voice into beams of pure color.”
– Pitchfork, Best New Music

“a remarkable endeavor, one that combines the properties of both artists’ music until it becomes a pristine, unified feeling.” – Pitchfork, Best New Music

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