It seems only fitting that Kiko Navarro’s first album as the primary artist, the third in the world-famous Pacha nightclub franchise’s Perceptions of Pacha series, would be picked up by a record label that calls itself “Swank”. Navarro’s Perceptions of Pacha is decidedly swank. Every minute of it is glossy, danceable music that simply screams “high life” with every passing moment.
On that level, it’s hard to see Navarro’s work here as anything other than a smashing success. Pacha Ibiza, the most noteworthy and famous Pacha location, caters to the sort of audience for whom the music is there to be enjoyed and danced to, but certainly not thought about for any length of time. Navarro tinkers with salsa, afrobeat (via the inclusion of a veritable cadré of Cuban instrumentalists), and Latin jazz music alongside less regionally-specific styles as disco and house music, perhaps in homage to Pacha Ibiza’s five music rooms, but despite the subgenre-hopping nature of the music, very little of it goes beyond the high-BPM elevator music of European clubs I’ll never be able to get into. Navarro seems, by his music, to be a rather smart man; his genre knowledge and ability to create a cohesive mix is impressive, and constantly on display over the course of Perceptions of Pacha. All the skill in the world can’t infuse music with feeling, however, and Navarro’s work here comes off as sterilized and terribly bland, which is a damn shame given that the genres he is working with have plenty of potential to be anything but.
Granted, applying such generalizations to this entire collection of songs is a bit unfair. “Aché Pa Tí” is a fabulous bit of afrobeat, almost shocking in its minimalism, as its entire first half is entirely vocals and percussion. It actually loses steam a bit when the pianos and new age synths show up, but they’re actually used in a classy enough way to not kill the song too much. The scat ‘n’ beatbox breakdown toward the end of “Part of My Love” is pretty fantastic as well, though not enough to make the entire eight-minute song worthwhile. Scattered moments like these at least manage to pique the interest, even if they never manage to last an entire song.
Mostly, we’re treated to the dance-jazz stylings of songs like opener “Perceptions” (whose 30-second intro gets its own track for God knows what reason), a track with a decent, popping beat that just never seems to go anywhere, and “Leave Something Here”, cookie cutter disco pap with bonus horns attached. The English language songs all feature vocals about how great things are and how awesome the music is and how lovely people are, and I imagine the songs in other languages go the same route. No room for bad vibes here, obviously.
But again, that’s kind of the point. The problem lies in the fact that those who are actually going to be paying their hard-earned money for a release like this won’t be listening to it in a crowded dance club, where it would actually work. No, they’ll be playing it in their living rooms, their bedrooms, their headphones at work, or their patios as they enjoy an hour of summer sun. For this last, it might work after a couple of Coronas, but generally, it’s just too uninteresting, too utterly disengaging to be good for more than a spin or two. When the beats per minute are as high as they are on Perceptions of Pacha, the goal should be to amplify the energy inherent in such speed. Instead, Kiko Navarro spends his 72 minutes trying to mellow it down as much as he can, and he ends up with an album that might sound good in an appropriately swank dance club, but otherwise comes off as frustratingly, debilitatingly boring.