In its second incarnation, the German downtempo/electronica duo grows up and makes one of 2006's most memorable albums.
You could hardly ask for a better rebirth than this. Karma, namely the German duo of Lars Dorsch and Tom Dams, has been doing business in the downbeat electronica realm for nearly 15 years. In a past life, they've done their share of remixes, released several albums -- now mostly out of print -- and had some success in the clubs. But that all pales in comparison to Latenight Daydreaming. Five years in the making, it's essentially a debut, albeit one of such maturity and sophistication as only veterans could produce.
The album's title is about as concise a description as you could get for the music within. Latenight Daydreaming is a soundtrack for that near-magical window between dead of night and dawn; a downtempo, warm, cozy, womb-like, delicate, fragile, gentle salve to get you through the comedown, or whatever it is you need to get through before you can rest. Massive Attack's Blue Lines is usually cited as ground zero for this sound, although fellow Bristolians Alpha provided the more organic, wide-eyed blueprint that Latenight Daydreaming follows. Dorsch and Dams, however, find more of a middle ground between Alpha's often-meandering soundscapes and pop conventions. Also, they are more audibly influenced by jazz and folk music than their British counterparts, employing acoustic guitars, brushed snares; and, most effectively, swelling Hammond organ.
True to "comedown music" form, Dorsch and Dams bring in an international trio of vocalists to help articulate their musical impressions. None are particularly distinguished, but they all have nice voices that never threaten to steal the show from the carefully constructed music. Brit Jerome Stokes lends opener "All You Ever Wanted" a soulful touch with his loose, high-pitched delivery. The song is a strong example of the promising new sort of "expressionist soul" that Andre 3000 and Gnarles Barkley have proved so adept at -- with a bit of Seal mixed in. It's too bad that it marks Stokes' only appearance. American Michelle Amador fronts the plaintive, acoustic guitar-led "Are We?" as well as one of Latenight Daydreaming's best songs, "Home". Opening with a gently melodic guitar line and shimmering vibes, it features a jazz-inflected Amador celebrating:
Sweet hope in the life of a new day
Bright eyes of a brand new baby
Sheer joy in the promise of maybe.
If this can't convince you that everything's going to be OK, nothing will. It's bliss with heart.
Berlin-based Oezlem Çetin presides over Latenight Daydreaming's more accessible moments. "Fly" actually features major acoustic guitar chords and an uptempo chorus that you could sing along to. With Çetin sounding like a more intelligible Liz Fraser, the song comes across as a sort of latter-day Cocteau Twins pop song. It'll do for a label-placating single, but it doesn't quite fit in with the album's sedate atmosphere. "Father, Father" is another near-pop moment, but Dorsch and Dams overcompensate for the straightforward melody with a bizarre time signature. These quibbles are made insignificant by a track like "The Way You Are". Çetin delivers the album's best vocal performance in support of this heart-stopping ballad, which goes from simple piano chords to an ascending, exultant chorus that tingles more than a few nerves.
A handful of instrumentals rounds out Latenight Daydreaming. They're predictably subtle and provide some changes of pace, though only the aptly-titled "Requiem" leaves a lasting impression. When you reflect upon it, Latenight Daydreaming is remarkably eclectic given how well it creates and holds its warm, inviting atmosphere. Unlike Alpha's albums, it can't be experienced as one long, continuous composition. However, it's the strength of some of the individual songs that make it one of the year's most indispensable releases.