Gia Woods has a knack for bold statements. The Persian American pop star’s 2015 debut single, “Only a Girl” — a moody, Lorde-esque tune driven by sparse pops of synth and a shuddering bass — was a coming out anthem to the world, not to mention her socially-conservative parents. As fate would have it, the track instantly went viral, racking up more than 11 million streams on YouTube alongside 10 million on Spotify to date. Her confidence continues to shape her music, featuring dense, militant basslines and high-flying choruses in its most recent iterations. Her Heartbreak County EP series was a cheeky reference to Los Angeles written after a recent breakup. With Your Engine, she’s presented us with another slick, sexy collection of pop songs that feel definitive of the genre.
Your Engine opens with “Gia Would,” which is one of the more minimal songs on the EP, as much of the track is driven solely by punchy kicks and a bassline that sways like a balloon in the air. This isn’t to say it doesn’t have much going on; her voice sounds warped, which makes her sound almost possessed by an evil spirit. The vocals are very much in character — the song refers to a devastating breakup that led to two of her ex-girlfriends getting together. “Gia would follow you home,” the first line reads. The entire song is a candid expression of her anger. But there’s a more delicate side to the song that crystallizes during the pre-chorus; a wave of lush, Persian setar plucks flood your ears, and her polished singing feels akin to a satin blanket, right before dropping into a raucous section of pulsing synth bass. It’s wholly representative of the diverse influences throughout the EP.
Part of what makes Your Engine so compelling is how Woods produces such wonderful emotional contrasts. One song is about a sexual experience in the back of a car, while three minutes later you’re listening to cries of heartbreak, as she sings to someone who she hurt. Occasionally it’s just fun; the title track makes saucy vehicular metaphors, most notably to “ride on your engine.” Although the song is a head-bopping Eurodance tune, there’s something so distinctly ’00s about the lyrics that makes it all the more charming, à la Lady Gaga’s “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick.”
This takes shape throughout the EP, pulling from many different scenes and eras of pop music. There’s the steamy synth-pop of “Overdrive,” with its start-and-stop synths that sound like an engine revving up; the Future Nostalgia-like “Elevation” displays dazzling runs of disco strings and subtle vocoder harmonies. “Heartbreak Radio” oozes with charisma, as she tells a former lover to move on; it’s laden with rave-y arpeggios, and her raspy vocal tone shines through, sounding very nonchalant about the entire affair. Pop music has always been a cosmopolitan, timeless affair, and you’d find it difficult to find a more representative diplomat of that than Your Engine. Of course, that’s not to say it’s spectacular; it’s never drab, yet the music can lean a bit too hard on the eras it’s channeling. But Your Engine is a fun, nostalgia-laden spectacle that flaunts Woods as a budding pop icon.
Daily Arts Writer Thejas Varma can be reached at email@example.com.