- Five years in electronic music circles might as well be three lifetimes in less time-sensitive genres. But that's how long it's been since Luciano's debut full-length as Lucien-n-Luciano on Peacefrog, the cerebral leisure hour classic Blind Behaviour. Despite high-profile mix CDs for Fabric and Soma's Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi series, exploratory singles on labels like Perlon, Mental Groove and Cadenza, and his DJ-oriented rhythmic workout No Model No Tool, lengthier artistic statements by the popular Swiss-Chilean producer have been missing. Now, as the third LP for Cadenza, the label head himself finally returns with Tribute to the Sun.
Let's get this straight immediately: From the artwork to the tracks, Tribute is certain to be a divisive statement by one of dance music's most inventive and globally-oriented composers, one that segues from the listless and stale to some of the more well-mannered, strikingly beautiful "dance" cuts you'll hear all year.
For those of you who believe both Luciano and Cadenza have lapsed into creative stagnancy over the last few years, Tribute's certainly going to hand you a little ammo for your RA forum debates. Opener "Los Ninos de Fuera" sputters around more (gasp) tribal chanting and hand claps before Luciano grounds the obnoxious chatter in a funky bass wobble. Given how long Luciano's spent on the album—four years by his count—it's tempting to dismiss it as a dated inclusion from its earliest stages, now a cheap replication of similar ploys like "Enfants." Similarly uninspired, Tricky-collaborator Martina Topley-Bird flutters and moans over "Sun, Day and Night"'s shimmery tribal beats and submerged bass, providing little melodic anchoring or texture. Elsewhere, though both "Metodisma" and "Oenologue" mine the schizoid psychedelics he nailed on Etudes Electroniques, Luciano filters in grotesque "Rhapsody in Pain"-like screams that make their already murky atmospheres impenetrable.
But aside from these missteps, Tribute succeeds principally via restraint rather than grand forward movements; it's most remarkable when comfortable, rainy day cozy. During its tactile, lucid middle-stretch, Luciano artfully melds Detroit undercurrents with the label's slippery, pattering percussive patterns. More in line with the cushiony recline of Blind Behaviour than any of his singles, "Conspirer" is a brief sonic drizzle, dying color and fading light against a moist, misty foreground; its simple percussive groundwork is just brawny enough to shoulder Luciano's phosphorescent synth tones.
Even more arresting, "Hang for Bruno"—featuring percussionist Omri Hason and Bruno Bieri—balances sparse organic percussion with blurry harmonics, a gleaming track that owes as much to traditional Caribbean sounds as it does electronic music's various cement-and-glass homes. "Fran Left Home" fuses knobby bass with a circular thumbwhorl electro melody more Warp than Cadenza, while "Celestial" highlights Luciano at his most riskily experimental, chopping Keren Ann's "Liberty" into a wafty, utterly bizarre bit of loose-limb funk that's like a chamber-music house jam (yes, really). Frankly, I've spent several months with Tribute to the Sun, and I'm still not sure he pulls "Celestial" off. But on an album where Luciano seems to be taking few artistic chances, compelling though many may be, it's refreshing to hear the man vulnerable again.
01. Los Ninos de Fuera
02. Celestial feat. Liberty by Keren Ann
03. Sun, Day and Night feat. Martina Topley-Bird
05. Hang for Bruno feat. Bruno Bieri & Omri Hason
06. Fran Left Home
07. Africa Sweat feat. Ali Boulo Santo
08. Pierre for Anni