A pair of French DJs get together for 17 riffs on a sound fans of J Dilla's Shining will find very familiar. Talib Kweli, Sly Johnson, and more guest.
The Analogtronics-as-album experience is very similar to meeting a moderately attractive woman in low lighting, letting your guard down due to her surface charm only to become more and more bored by her signature moves as the night wears on and ending up home alone with your bag of Cheetos as usual. The two-part instrumental introduction is such an attractive, spacey take on the sound J Dilla was fleshing out during the sessions that would become The Shining -- "E=MC2"-like songs in particular -- that it's hard to imagine an album that will eventually co-star proven talents like Talib Kweli, MF DOOM, eLZhi, Moka Only, and Guilty Simpson could possibly disappoint.
The Talib collaboration comes early enough that it's satisfying in all the ways one would expect a Kweli track to be satisfying. Truthfully, it's one of his best tracks in years thanks in no small part to Union's dope, jazz beat and french vocalist Sly Johnson tagging along for a wonderful chorus and vocal riffing. But few of the other performers step to the plate as locked in as Kweli does, and eventually, Union's insistence on making what feel like the same noises over and over again becomes a bit fatiguing.
Analogtronics' greatest flaw, really, is its use of these blog-popular artists to get its name out there when a briefer, pared-down experience would have served everyone much better. Its aesthetic, while awesomely warm and undoubtedly pleasing to Dilla-heads, wouldn't feel quite so repetitive if we were given just the eight instrumental tracks and then perhaps the Talib Kweli, Moka Only, and Rapper Big Pooh (of Little Brother) features as some spice. This way, eLZhi wouldn't have to reveal how surprisingly uninterested he seemed to be in this project, spitting like he thought Eminem's satirical intro to his BET Awards verse was actually a meal ticket. We wouldn't have to hear Guilty Simpson, normally quite an imposing presence on records, feel as ethereal and inessential as he possibly could. Nor would Roc Marciano, a similarly menacing presence in the right scenario, be thrown into such an alien situation, though I suppose he earns a certain level of cache just for taking the risk.
Still, you have to give a couple of French DJs credit for not only finding such satisfaction in one of Dilla's more overlooked and funky sounds, but also for being so unabashedly devoted to reproducing it. Their professionalism is undeniable throughout Analogtronics, and the duo's warmth is by far their most inviting quality. These synths feel alive and vibrant in a very un-hip-hop way, establishing a groovy, relaxing environment that calls to mind foggy, cigarette-joined sunrises and late night stargazing.
For the certain segment of hip-hop listeners for whom this sound deserves more exploration and cultivation, Analogtronics is a certain worthwhile endeavor. It just makes a number of mistakes aimed at focus that instead feel like a lack of ideas, entrapping the record in a niche status. It's easy to see how Union would have set that in their sights from the beginning, and if that's the case, they've succeeded -- but it would have been nice if they'd been able to find ways to expand their sound in ways that didn't feel as simple as "give those rappers who're always appearing on other European producer-driven albums a call". Analogtronics is a promising pilot, but if this duo's got more in the tank, they'll have to figure out how to give it a more diverse, energetic feel.