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White Noise: Romare - Projections

Friday, 27 March 2015

Romare - Projections

Label: Ninja Tune

What do we tend to expect from a debut electronic LP? With a few solid EPs under his or her belt, most producers head in one of two directions for their first album: they refine their existing sound or they go for something completely different. British producer Romare chooses the former approach to follow two sterling EPs on Black Acre which proved challenging while overflowing with groove and invention.

On Projections, he burnishes his sample collages to a sheen, casting a sharp eye at the history of American music by recomposing its features. It’s a warm, generous collection of tracks, overflowing with the spirit of funk, soul and jazz, shot through with an eye-popping cast of samples. And yet, after it’s all over, it feels like there’s something missing. Romare’s first EPs were so creative, so searching in theme, sound and style, that hearing him do more of what he does best is a disappointment in a way. The novelty of his approach has worn off as his craft has improved, so what we’re left with is an album that impresses and caresses, but doesn’t quite excite.
Yet that very mastery of craft is still something to behold. Romare has a way in particular with structure, eliciting drama in his tracks by leaving tracks up to past the halfway point before they gloriously erupt, such as Work Song’s explosion from soupy synthwork to a swung groove and clipped piano samples like excerpts from a lost saloon jam. Motherless Child at first doesn’t convince with a lounge-y melody that sounds like it belongs on the shopping channel, but the seedy trumpet that dominates the track’s latter half is a joyous reward, as Romare boldly changes the spirit of the original.

As well as his fine attention to build and release, Romare’s use of samples is generous and far-reaching, such as on highlight Roots, where a bassline like a distilment of his earlier Down The Line (It Takes A Number) builds with patience, slowly accruing dusty samples til one can only marvel at the complexity of the arrangement, at how every tiny sample plays such an integral part of the whole.

Later The Drifter enchants instantly with its strutting bassline, while Rainbow is a confident dancefloor number, all smooth guitar licks and a lush funk bassline. It’s euphoric without ever beating you over the head with its emotional direction. Yet by this point in the album, perhaps some head-beating would be appreciated. These tracks are so classy and polished that over repeated listens they feel somewhat lacking in grit, even unadventurous compared with his earlier work.

Later tracks suffer from the success of what came before, Prison Blues is a syrup-thick jazzy number that has personality but loses its impact because it feels like we’ve heard it before, while meandering closer La Petite Mort’s slow-mo jazz keys and tidy vocal feel directionless over the track’s indulgent 7 minute length. When Romare can craft a superb tune like the melancholy Jimmy’s Lament in only three minutes, we’re left to wonder why he dedicated so much time to such an aimless parting shot.

Projections is tough to judge because what you get out of it as a listener really depends on what you were expecting (although admittedly all music is prey to the warping powers of expectation). If you’re looking for something bold and fresh in this spirit of Romare’s first EPs, it might be worth skipping over this one. Yet if you loved that first sound and want to hear more like it, Projections is a lovely gem, seducing with a distinctive voice and lavish arrangements.


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