The cover just about says it all. Rather unlike the refracted, abstracted mirror ball of 2000's Vocalcity, Luomo's new album, The Present Lover, looks like a Revlon ad from the '80s. Vocalcity subjected 15-minute house tracks to the dot-dot-dash of Germanic semaphore glitch music; The Present Lover is polished and clipped to near radio-friendly lengths. It retains the first album's detached couture hauteur, a glamour born of steely industrial girders as much as well-defined cheekbones. Luomo main man Vladislav Delay may have produced glassy ambient in a former life, but the eddying dub-scapes that anchored Vocalcity have been replaced on his latest by house's traditional concussive warmth and bright top-end. As such, Delay skirts a kind of opulence that threatens to sour into nouveau-riche posturing--but if this is music for Banana Republic (as some wags are likely to claim), then it's a zero-gravity one on a Venusian moon.
On the near weightless "Body Speaking," the anonymous female singer's voice glints like drips of mercury streaking against endless space. The title track quavers mid-song like heat rising off a blacktop, then Delay decides to play a guitar solo on his synthesizer, notes buckling and warping, creeping across the bars like hot wax. Vocalcity standout "Tessio" is transformed into a jaunty weeper, prickly Spanish guitar recalling Madonna's "Deeper and Deeper," the singer beseeching "Baby, it's okay/We'll make it better." Whereas the vocals on Vocalcityswirled phonemes, inhalations, and snatches of phrase to suggest song form, they're positioned center stage here, albeit still phased/fazed by hazy production and often heard nearly at a whisper. Delay only falters when he reaches back for the glitches he left behind.
Most of The Present Lover is unabashedly gorgeous and moistly melancholic, but its emotions are ambiguous, as cold and opaque as an ice sculpture, even as they breathe and pulse. It's an uncanny simulacrum, not only of mainstream house, but also of emotionality in pop music. This is digital disco for live humans. Or maybe the other way 'round.
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