Chalk it up to a good idea gone dull along the way because Da Lata’s latest album is a brandy-Xanax pillow mint. It’s a shame, since Latin rhythms seem ready ripe to interface with techno’s relentless hunger for hybrids. In fact, some of the best records I’ve heard this year from the new Thievery Corporation and Cibelle, to the blissed out bossa nova of Nicola Conte’s project with Rosalia De Souza, have been seamless stitches that simply amplified the juicy sway inherent in their South American swipes.
Patrick Forge and Chris Franck make a competent record by any standard, but there’s just nothing here that even fights for your attention. It has hipster boutique written all over it, the kind of instantly backdropped coolness that’s effective for not being arresting. Songs like “Nuts” perfectly recede behind an afro pop skeleton that simply loops to the point where you couldn’t possibly still be listening. The theft of techno’s tendency to hinge on the dubious hypnotic power of repetition leaves the record mired in beats that consistently wear out their welcome. Most egregiously, “Serious”, which takes Bembe Segue’s hauntingly funky refrains and buries them in a bubble funk morass that spins out its rickety rhythm for an inexplicable six minutes. Trimming the gristle though, would only highlight the scarcity of germinating ideas for this album. Serious really needs an lengthy session of beat therapy, perhaps having Timbaland put a stethoscope to the songs and smacking them all on the ass. Something.
To sucker someone into a trance, you need to first get them to look your way. The borrowed rhythms on Serious sound stunted, muted, and in an odd way, contradictory. “Alice” sounds like the lost shameful marriage between lounge funk and muzak, a horrible amalgam of swishy keyboard, boingy background noises and drum beats with all the pleasant subtlety of Poe’s ticking telltale heart. When the songs aren’t difficult to notice, they can be hard to endure. “Can it Be?” veers off the path musically, but not the firmly established rut of monotony. Courtney Denni has the misfortune of sounding like a mix between Craig David and Michael Jackson, a fact that instantly condemns the song to a draining R&B undertow. While the acoustic guitar work and drum beats stand out in a much more foregrounded way, they seem completely on holiday from one another as if you’re listening to the songwriting equivalent of a conference call. Every musical influence involved on songs like this, which are sadly most of them, have the effect of making you wonder how the experiment in cross-cultural chemistry actually contributes to any one of the elements involved. The techno house vein loses much of its kinetic punch when submerged in lukewarm vocals and beats that sound buffed to the point of fluff and the Brazilian and African rhythms sound flat and driven to such a point of simplicity that they may well be C&C Music Factory songs with bongos.
Chris Franck’s also plays with Smoke City, a wonderfully eclectic, trip-hop, bossa nova, techno outfit whose songs take risks, enchant, and activate the listener much more than anything on this record. So it’s not surprising that the best songs are those that include Franck’s Smoke City collaborator, Nina Miranda. “Distracted Minds” actually slinks and purrs, captivating with Miranda’s scent trail of a voice coupled with Baaba Maal’s growl. The pull between their voices creates the first sign of creative friction on this album, and it smolders. I could listen to Nina Miranda count gumballs. “Something” also tangles through the speakers with a vaguely Middle Eastern/Tango gloss, pitting Nina Miranda in a gravely give and take with Jhelisa Anderson. The bass is thick, damp and knotty and the beat spirals and taunts like a lithe hand with castanets.
Serious could have gone completely differently. All the elements are here: the globetrotting high-caliber vocalists, the heavy petting beats, and the cosmopolitan grasp of grafts. For many reasons, these pieces never really come together well, resulting in a sorry diluted quilt of internationally-flavored boredom.
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