[9 March 2011]
Rainbow Arabia is the husband and wife duo Danny and Tiffany Preston—Tiffany on vocals and Danny at the production helm. The two call Los Angeles home, however the duo has taken up sonic residency in many different corners of the globe. The first stop in this group’s ascendancy to global pop pastiche is Kompakt records, Cologne, Germany’s premier house and techno label. In addition to being Germany’s longest-standing reason for keeping the country at the top of the electronic dance music world, Kompakt has released an ongoing Pop Ambient series that does as the series suggests—it highlights the potential for pop in ambient music. It could be said that Rainbow Arabia engage in similar territory when one considers Tiffany’s wraith-like voice is more interested in texture, and Danny’s showcases obsessive attention to sonic detail. But the group ultimately takes a maximal approach to pop and production that may belie their relationship to Kompakt, while giving the label a much-needed stretch beyond its Euro-centric, minimalist comfort zone.
Rainbow Arabia continue their globe-trotting throughout their debut full-length, Boys And Diamonds, stopping for West African high-life guitar, Middle Eastern rai synths, Jamaican dancehall patois and techno’s familiar percussion sounds. And the production is indeed outstanding on this record as Danny Preston’s production values are as tight and interesting as anything coming out on Kompakt’s more typical roster of techno stalwarts. His drums deserve the most attention here, as they seem to intersect these various parts of the globe more viscerally than other aspects of the record. Steel drums get warped into outer space, chimes come in crisper and crunchier than anything outside your window, and 808s kick and pop throughout, as if they’ll never have reason to go away.
Where the record doesn’t work certainly has nothing to do with how it was produced, but more so in how Tiffany’s vocals were envisioned. She’s constantly drenched in reverb, forever far away from all the brightness going on in Danny’s beats, and she just sounds so gosh darn sad. The melancholy that pervades this album is a head-scratcher, and it’s on only stand-outs such as “Hai” where Tiffany’s voice manipulation makes total sense. Danny’s lurching, awkward cacophony of blips and drums work perfectly as she laments that “One-day you’ll learn how to walk/Next you’ll learn how to talk”. Other highlights include “Without You”, a song that sees Tiffany finding a pop hook more effortlessly than on others.
What a lot of the divergent sonic explorations sum up to is an album that has a lot of ideas; perhaps more than what makes up a coherent pop record. The group may not be interested in such coherence, and it’s clear that Danny’s production aesthetic is masterful in this way, but it begs the question: Why isn’t Danny Preston’s name on a Kompakt 12-inch?