Luomo “Plus” – gah… Another new Luomo work. It’s not that I don’t like Luomo (in fact I LOVE Luomo), but the more accessible he tries to make his music, the less accessible it actually becomes. And I don’t mean in the physical purchasing sense, I mean the act of sitting down and consuming the full album becomes more of a challenge to me. It took me the best part of two years to grasp “Paper Tigers” and I’m still working on “Convivial”, although if you were to ask me right now, I’d confess to considering that the one truly bad album the feature Vladislav Delay’s name.
It’s a difficult endeavour to take feelings inspired by music and paste them on a page like this – and I’m certainly not the best at doing it either. So, let me start by first describing the more tangible qualities of the album – the sound quality. Now, I must attest to being a little bit of an audiophile. Not the snake oil and magic cable kind, but the compression hating, digital processor loathing type. I like my music to breathe, have dynamics. I like a bit of noise, or the round sound of tubes. I envy, without limits, the Manley processors Vladislav displays in his studio. I would literally kill for some of that 60’s vintage great he has laying around. I am without reservation, purely in the analogue only camp when it comes to recording (playback is an exception). So, that’s what’s so weird about this album… I’ve never heard a more analogue sounding record in my entire life. Everything has a rubbery bounce, and a smoothness to it. It’s recorded in an immaculate, beautiful, no compromise fashion… But I’m not sure I like it.
The whole album sounds too detuned, or too ‘warm’ to be a techno / house record. It sounds like 1972. It’s difficult to point out exactly what is causing this, but the music lacks definition. The album sounds like it was mixed for headphones, but exhibits some odd phase problems when listening on cans. It reminds me a little of the Kraftwerk sound, and that’s not a compliment. For once it sounds as if Vladislav Delay has been influenced by his equipment, rather than making it do his bidding he has stepped back and let it do it’s thing. There’s much less of a signature to the sound than normal – I would not have recognised this on sound alone as a Luomo disc had the name not been on it, and to me that’s a great shame.
My suspicion is that Vladislav has now become a bit of a gear head, and once what were once just little machines that made noises have now become more than that. They seem to have become the substance of the material rather then the means of expressing it. But, hey, I could be wrong. Anyway, this is all just aesthetics, nothing to lose focus on.
Let me get this out of the way before we discuss the music; this is not micro-house. “VocalCity” wasn’t micro-house, “The Present Lover” wasn’t micro-house. Luomo was never micro-house. Anyone who contests otherwise is nothing less than an absolute fucking moron. If you were expecting 808 drums with a 500hz cut, go look else where. In fact, go and fuck off and die in your skinny jeans wearing, trendy little clubbing sub-genre.
Right from the start, the musical writing displays the characteristics of a Luomo work. The opening track, “Twist”, is a subdued, long drawn piece. Slowly building, and combining to become almost fully formed. However it’s quite evident that it was written to be an album opener, and wouldn’t really stand on it’s own as a single piece. But Luomo makes albums, not tracks – so it’s perhaps not the sharp criticism you may have assumed, but at over eight minutes long it does become a little tedious after the first listen.
Track two, “Good Stuff” is one of the tracks that was available for preview on SoundCloud (YUK!), so has lost a little bit of it’s fresh feel. In saying that, the track has a lot to offer.
Another epically long piece, nine minutes ten seconds to be exact, it feels very “Detroit 1984”. We’re treated to resonant synthesis and slippery sounding hooks, setting the motif of the album quite aptly. Very subdued chord progression never really find the space to flourish, and the bassline only pins things down on breaks. It sounds to me like a cross between Donna Summers and Soft Cell, but then again, I’m a little bit crazy.
I don’t know if this is a conscious decision or not, but the third track on every Luomo disc since “The Present Lover” seems to express the most swagger and confidence on every disc. “Plus” is no exception. “How You Look” is a plodding, stabbing synth effort where the kick drum takes centre place. Layered vocals are draped over the top of things, making it sound a little deeper than it actually is. Percussion builds to excellent effect, and really grooves and swings better than any Luomo track ever has. There is also an interesting use of the bass synth arpeggiator which is allowed at one point to run on a quarter bar too far, going into the wrong key, and forcefully grabbing the attention of the listener before the next track begins. A fantastic idea, if a little awkward in it’s execution.
“Plus” takes until track four to push the vocals to the front.
“Make My Day” is the first, and one of the few tracks on the entire album to be what I’d consider vocally driven. And even then, at the bridge Luomo sees fitto suppress them in acres of delay, where usually they would enter a crescendo of vocal cuts. “Make My Day” is best described as a classically produced house track, with some uniquely written solo parts. Weird but cool has long been the Luomo trade mark, but some times I wonder if he errs too much towards the former. Probably the most self-indulgent track on the disc, reinforced by the point that it just seems to fade into nothingness, proceeded by some random keys… Again though, it’s closer to cool than contrived.
“Happy Strong” is a brilliant, shining example of why I love Luomo so much. No one else in the entire world can drop gems like this, and to do so with such nonchalance brings a smile to my face every time. I didn’t like this when I first heard it, I dismissed it as an off cut from the latest Sistol effort, but there was something to it. Something about “Happy Strong” has engrained itself in my psyche.
In essence, it’s quite a sparse track, there’s only main elements to it – C minor pad, patterned drums, vocal hook, bassline. That’s it really – and none of which show much, if any, variation throughout the whole eight minutes of the track. Each element just happens to be utterly perfect, and everything is perfectly executed. The whole record is perfect. Everything bounces and plods, rhythms have an energy and a spirit the flows out of the speakers. You become lost in that glistening pad, as the drums bump you along. You can genuinely feel the magic. This is the track that makes the whole album worth while – this is a track that could make any album worth while. This is not only one of Luomo’s best tracks, but also one of the best pieces of music ever to be placed on wax and released to the Ether. Apparently there’s four more tracks after this one – my rewind button seems to think otherwise.
In actual fact, the four proceeding tracks suffer terribly from anonymity. I don’t remember much about them other than experiencing crushing disappointment and slight boredom, which is a crying shame. Hazy, distant vocals, reverb laden percussion, nothing distinctive or unique. I’m sure they will grow on me over time, but whether or not I am willing to ever even listen to them again is a bit of a question… It’s a shame to end a new album on such a weak note, especially an album I was looking forward to for so long.
At the end of all this, I can’t help wonder if it’s me. Maybe I’m the problem. Maybe it’s me that’s change and I’m no longer cool. I spent this weekend unironically listening the the Labyrinth sound track. Ten years ago you couldn’t have paid me to listen to that shit, but now it’s all “Dance magic, dance magic, dance…” as I picture 10 grunged-up Kermit the Frogs grooving around. Getting old is a terrible thing.
“Plus” is still an excellent and notable album, even if only half of it really works right now. Is that enough to make it a decent buy? Yeah, without doubt. I think it’s best viewed as five incredible, and interesting tracks, with the addition of four tracks that may be growers – as it is really too early to rule them out totally (and I’ve yet to be let down by any VD production). Music isn’t like wine, it doesn’t get better with age – the listener does. That tracks done’t become better, but maybe my appreciation for them will become more evident as time passes.
Luomo hasn’t lost his magic, it’s just become a little more sporadically placed.