There is a little bit of identity crisis lurking throughout Gui Boratto’s latest album Pentagram. There are so many ideas — interesting ideas, even — that it’s hard to find a narrative thread, or a mood, or even a consistent direction among them. While the kitchen-sink approach makes for an engaging and occasionally thrilling listen, it seems to exist more as mixtape fodder than as a consistent, cohesive statement, to the point where one starts to wonder why these songs didn’t show up as a series of digital and vinyl singles instead.
It all starts innocuously enough with “The Walker”, a mid-tempo, sequencer-heavy bit of instrumental dance-pop that has just enough of an edge to be interesting, though it develops slowly and cuts off just as it sounds like it could be getting particularly interesting. Happily, it cuts into “The Black Bookshelf”, a lively bit of electronics mixed with just enough live drumming to sound like it’s coming directly from the garage. That live drumming is by far the star, with the sudden fills that connect different segments of the song offering cheap but real thrills to the listener. It’s here, however, that Boratto starts to run into a little bit of trouble.
“Overload” is, to be sure, a perfectly adequate pop-house song, existing on Pentagram as the token track which must exist on all Gui Boratto albums featuring Luciana Villanova. Villanova does her best with the material, her alto voice scraping emotion out of a fairly cloying, twinkly backdrop, but there’s not much to grab onto other than the beat itself. Sure, the Orbital-style synth patches that beef up that beat make for a fun game of name-that-sound, but it leans so hard into the clichés of the genre as to be instantly forgettable. The vocal tracks are, in general, the weakest of the material here — “The Phoenix” is the album’s worst moment, an apparent anthem whose cheesy lyrics actually distract from the beefy little beat Boratto constructs, and “Hallucination” throws BT out front for a little throwback late 1990s electronica that starts out fun enough until it wears out its welcome. Six-and-a-half minutes is about two-and-a-half too many on this one.
There’s also “Scene 2”, perhaps the only instrumental miss, a catastrophic bit of cinema schmaltz whose only generous reading is as comic relief. More than anything, this breaks down whatever momentum the album has, for the sake of proving what exactly?
Otherwise, Boratto’s work here really is fun and interesting, even if you’ll rarely be able to get through Pentagram from beginning to end. The title track tucked unassumingly toward the end of the album, is a fun little three minutes of minor harmonic experimentation whose rhythms never stop shifting and surprising. “Forgotten” is propulsive and full of energy, its buzzes and beeps constantly reaching for a sky they’ll never touch, though they refuse to stop trying. “Spur” is the darkest thing on the album, a creeping terror of a track that constantly sounds as though it’s going to explode, though it never quite does, a restraint that is to its credit.
Boratto would likely have ended up an architect were he not destined to make it as a world-renowned DJ, and from song to song, a strong sense of structural weight and balance serves him well. Most of these tracks will play (in many cases, have already played) wonderfully on the dancefloor, slotting exceedingly well into house mixes. He knows how to put a song together.
Since his debut album Chromophobia, however, Boratto has struggled to put together an album-length statement that fully lands; too much of his work since has felt like a reaction. There’s the sense that he has to one-up — or, more recently, live up to — his debut, while all but exorcising the albums that have come since. Pentagram doesn’t feel like that, exactly, as it rarely comes off as a direct response to his own discography. Rather, its scattered focus sounds like the result of someone finally letting that past be and trying to figure out what he wants for his future. Boratto’s next great album isn’t this one, but it holds a lot of promise for his future.