Watching the music video for Erika de Casier’s intoxicating G-funk single “Do My Thing” feels like discovering a pop star before they’ve realized they’re a pop star. The homemade, down-to-earth video follows de Casier, clad in a bike helmet as she pedals around Copenhagen, chewing gum and giving off the kind of comfortable smile that seems genuinely happy just to be out for another late night in the city. By the end of the video, she’s at the club with her friend, taking blurry selfies and dancing away in the crowd—just like one of us.
“It’s important for me that people can be comfortable around me, and vice versa,” the Danish vocalist/producer tells me via email in advance of her sublime debut album Essentials, which we’re premiering ahead of its official release this week. “If I projected some chilly, distant image, I wouldn’t be able to live up to that in person. I want people to see me as I am.”
For the past several years, de Casier has orbited around Danish house collective Regelbau, lending her voice to remixes by local figureheads DJ Central and DJ Sports and performing as one half of nocturnal soul duo Saint Cava. But for her debut solo release under her own name, she’s taken on a much more personal sound.
Essentials hits like vintage Sade remastered in pristine HD, channeling the iciest strains of '90s R&B while whispering with the type of laptop-chopped bedroom stylings you might hear from Tirzah, or possibly de Casier’s friends in Smerz. Though its songs were all written around the same period of time, Essentials flows like a ‘Best of’ CD (a fact that its title knowingly nods at), each track packed tight with immediately addictive hooks and laced with all the tinny hi-hats and liquid synths of a lost Brandy album.
But if the sound is retro, de Casier’s concerns definitely aren’t; on “Good Time,” she sings about the role that phones play in our modern conceptions of romance. “Don’t write it in a message / Just say it to my face,” she pleads before the chorus cuts straight to the heart of the never-ending DM dance: As she sings “I had a really, really, really, really, really good time,” you can practically feel her typing out each “really,” praying that it sounds sincere.
“I’m not against phones,” de Casier tells me. “I don’t see my family so much because we live really far apart, so it’s nice that I can see parts of my sisters’ lives without actually being there. And of course Tinder and Grindr are bringing people closer together every day. But if I am in the same room as someone, I try to look them in the eye.”
There’s something else about that pre-smartphone innocence of the ‘90s that really speaks to de Casier. “I think it’s just because that was the music I was listening to as a teenager,” she says. “It takes me back to a time of daydreaming, and less worries.” While de Casier’s certainly not the only artist feeling the late-‘90s nostalgia set in as our current era only seems to be growing darker, her music is much more than just MTV pastiche.
There’s a genuine optimism to Essentials, an affectionate understanding of how its classic intersection of mainstream pop, soul music, and club ideals can make a potent cocktail for facing the world with a smile. Listening to it imparts the same wide-eyed hope you get as you set out into the city at 1 a.m., soaking in all the romance and possibilities of the night.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.