- If Dublin isn't somewhere that springs to mind when someone asks where to find the freshest contemporary hip-hop, perhaps it's about time All City starts getting noticed as the European stable for slickly off-kilter beatsmiths. Counting Flying Lotus, Mike Slott and Hudson Mohawke amongst recent alumni, the label now turn to Onra to deliver their first full-length offering. Long Distance is the latest excursion from the enigmatic Parisian. On 2007's charmingly overlooked full-length, Chinoiseries, he focused his attentions on Vietnamese pop vinyl. This time around, he takes on a wholly different starting point: '90s hip-hop and '80s electro.
The Miami Vice-style cover evokes the technical wonder associated with the digital dawn of the '80s, a decade whose slink and upfront romance have recently been reimagined for the dance floor by the likes of Alexander Nut, Dam-Funk and Funkineven. Like those names, Onra's chrome soul is well-oiled enough to embrace plenty of today's technical fetishes too—not least the chunked-out bass and percussive whack of contemporary dubstep on show in "Mecca." What sounds on paper like an impossible mesh of styles is held together by an overarching hip-hop sensibility true to his earlier material. "WeeOut"'s latter half synthetic wibbles are anchored to a subterranean Rustie-esque bassweight. Elsewhere, "My Mind Is Gone" nestles epic guitar wailing within throbbing, low-slung glitch, forging a connection somewhere between Prefuse 73 and Prince.
Reggie B saunters up for vocal duties on the harmonised drama of "High Hopes," turning on a bizarre, '90s boy band insecurity with lines such as "I know you seen me standin there / Tryina catch your eye / Watchin you for quite some time / But you think I'm an average guy." Following up these moments with cheap mating calls like "don't wanna come regular, wanna show you a whole new thang" might be unashamedly tacky, but that's the point. Like the most successful schmucks at the disco, Reggie has his tongue loosely embedded in his cheek, and it's exactly what saves him from getting slapped. The result is bizarre, satisfyingly nostalgic and outmoded romantic tact, something the most sophisticated R&B lover will testify works as well today as it did under the roller-disco glitterballs of the '80s.
Indeed, most of Long Distance seems to be concerned with loss and the vain search for monogamous love. Slum Village's T3 is on the lookout for the One in, um, "The One." Oliver Daysoul's performance on the title track drips with enough Vandross-esque pathos to lay out a genuine sense of hopeless devotion to his lucky lady. But thanks to some subtle production skills and careful attention to detail, Onra is able to tease out the smallest hint of irony from the album's most romantic moments. Sliding a slight warp over Daysoul's slick croon, we're asked to remember that we are, after all, stiff-lipped modern listeners who shouldn't be weakened by such cheesy sap. Or should we?
Long Distance's source materials are woven together convincingly, but as a complete package the barrage can get a bit distracting, at times turning up misfires like the dull electro pulse of "Mechanical." Though "Girl" and "Tape This" casually step on the toes of Flying Lotus and the recent Thriller series, they do little more than give a nod to their triumphs and never commit too much to making a proper challenge to each respective crown. But given Onra's undeniable charm, these problems are easily forgiven. Long Distance's finest achievements are entirely successful attempts at slopping a bit of greasy love and boogie onto our dance floors. And let's face it—we've all been secretly missing those lost moments smooching under the disco lights.
02. My Comet
03. My Mind Is Gone feat. Olivier Daysoul
04. Rock On
05. Sitting Back
06. High Hopes feat. Reggie B
08. Send Me Your Love
09. WeeOut feat. Buddy Sativa
12. Don't Stop
13. The One feat. T3 from Slum Village
15. Long Distance feat. Olivier Daysoul
16. Tape This
17. To The Beat feat. Walter Mecca
21. Cherry (Outro)