The first thing that hits you when you hear Luomo's new album, The Present Lover, is its warmth. Sultry female voices croon languorously in your ear. Comfy beats, more hypnotic and soft than driving and pummeling, pulsate through your head. Smooth, languid layers of synthesizers provide only a bare minimum of accompaniment. This album is a bit of an epic, running close to 75 minutes, but it provides such a pleasurable listening experience, that you're immediately lost in the songs' deceptively simple arrangements, so much so, that it's sometimes hard to believe it when the CD ends.
It's almost impossible for someone who writes about music to resist using lazy subgenre titles, so let me just get it out of the way right now. Microhouse. Finnish artist Vladislav Delay, AKA Luomo (funny how his alias sounds more Finnish than his real name, but I digress), emerged a few years ago as one of the foremost names in microhouse, his Vocalcity album delivering some stirring, spacious, minimally-arranged dance music, the hook-filled vocals weaving in and out of his bare-bones arrangements. It's the kind of dance music you'd rather listen to privately with your significant other, instead of hearing it in a club, its rhythmic, steamy quality serving as the ultimate mood music.
Three years after Vocalcity entranced listeners, The Present Lover was released, to much acclaim, in Europe during the summer of 2003, and finally, North America has caught up. Still boasting some rather lengthy tracks, it's much more streamlined an album, songs ranging from four minutes to nine minutes, as opposed to Vocalcity's 12-16 minute pieces. Beats are slightly more insistent, the production has more depth than the previous album, and overall, it's quite an improvement. The Present Lover is completely entrancing, and on several occasions, it's absolutely gorgeous.
The fact is, this album is more of a pop record than anyone else, Luomo pulling it off with such supreme skill, that if he were to do so, he could elevate the most mundane pop diva wannabe to goddess status in the blink of an eye. Just listen to that terrific disco strut in "Body Speaking" (previously released on 2002's Diskonize Me 12-inch), that distinctive low synth vamp that doesn't let up for eight minutes, the slightest, tiniest hint of synth chords underneath it all, the overdubbed female voices softly singing, "Can you feel my body speaking?" It's so ridiculously simple, but often in music like this, less is much better than more, and this song is the perfect example. "What Good" is a stunner, opening with a head-bobbing, bouncy, three minute movement, before shifting immediately into a soaring, lushly produced minute of musical euphoria, before regressing back to the initial arrangement. "So You" has a touch of R&B in the airy female vocals and a tiny hint of glitch in the softly stuttering beats, while the synth funk of "Shelter" features a solo vocal track weaving in and out of the music, Luomo cutting and pasting the vocals like a mad pop genius.
Fans might have initially bristled at the thought of Luomo including a reworked version of the Vocalcity standout "Tessio" on The Present Lover, and for good reason. Surely he had better things to do than just stick on a redundant piece of music, right? Well, what the man has done is rework the song so brilliantly, it makes the original sound stale and one-dimensional in comparison. Vocalcity's "Tessio" is a restrained, expansive piece of work, the moments of silence playing as prominent a role as the minimal synths and the dueting male and female vocals. The new version, however, is a much tighter piece of work, as Luomo transforms it into a flat-out gem of a dance anthem that borders on straight-up house music. This time around, the track boasts a buoyant acoustic guitar lick, waves and flutters of synths, an undulating, dub-fused bass line, and a strictly female vocal track, making for a joyous, downright dance-inducing listening experience.
If there's a weakness in Luomo's music, it's his lyrics, which often range from hackneyed to stupefyingly surreal. The ethereal "Visitor" is a pretty little tune, but the line, "I'm cleaning up black coffee and feta cheese," is so laughably weird, it rivals the work of German techno buffoons Scooter. However, the sheer beauty of the music wins out in the end, making Luomo's lyrical ineptness forgivable. The Present Lover is the perfect antidote from the cheap thrills of mainstream pop and mind-numbing mainstream dance music, the kind of stuff you savor for long periods of time.