Oriol, Night and Day

[Planet Mu]

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Whenever a style of music is heavily and obviously influenced by an older generation of music, there is a tendency among critics to slap a modifier in front of the name and ride the comparison for all it’s worth. The latest victim of genre over simplification is funk, a musical style I personally adore: there are some things that should just never be messed with, and in my book funk is one of them. So when the term “modern funk” cropped up over the past year with DâM-FunK and Floating Points at the fore, I felt immediately apprehensive of miscategorizing what amounted to the bastard child of funk, boogie, and disco. One artist who works within these hazy borders is Oriol Singhji, whose debut album for Planet Mu,Night and Day, tempers the boogie with a lush and spacious sense of melody.

The synthetic atmosphere of Night and Day places it in the era dominated by keyboards and guitars but taking on a number of complimentary forms. “Joy FM” sets the pace for the majority of the album: a swirl of synthesized strings and a steady rhythm section that are punctuated by slap bass guitar phrases and lead guitar flourishes. A sort of disco sheen permeates the song, alerting listeners not to expect an album of straight boogie or funk. One criticism that can be made of this track and others is that they lack a primal groove — a sweat-inducing fire — that permeates more traditional funk music. Still, Oriol can’t be judged too harshly in his search of that almighty groove — there are unique facets in his vision. A more inventive, stitched together rhythm pattern marks “Spiral,” and the vocoded and cut-up vocals remind me of James Blake on a slinkier tip. An ever-escalating and wandering synth melody winds through “Memories” while the shaker-driven drums flick in and out. Much like “Joy FM,” “Jam” and “Coconut Coast” reach for a soaring funk soundscape, but the sounds serving as Oriol’s ladder to these peaks seem a bit too close to factory presets. Night and Day too often feels like the work of a burgeoning talent who is still grappling with his influences, opting to combine familiar elements in lieu of forging his own.

“The Process” and “Kam” make a better go of this by stepping out of the “modern funk” zone in favor of extremely thumping LA beats and jumpy synths. The near bhangra-styled rhythms of “The Process” are full of stuttering shakers and thick kicks in a manner that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Flying Lotus album, which brings a sense of dynamism to the familiar choice of timbres. Meanwhile, “Kam” begins light and tropical before giving way to a meaty synth line that flexes its muscles across a steady, textured beat in a way that’s quite striking. “Flux” shows a more sensual side of Oriol than seen elsewhere on the album, wrapping mid-range syncopated plucking around a shuffling beat punctuated by organ-like squalls that emulate a liquid horn section. The album wraps up with “5 Bars” which embraces some of the cheese inherent in synth funk with both hands, relishing histrionic synth leads and bubbling bass in a way that’s a little a little silly but kind of bold at the same time. “Modern funk” is often aligned with sounds similar to those found on Oriol’s debut album, but for all the fun and ear-catching grooves I find myself still hungry for the blinding heat that emanated from funk’s roots in the 60’s and 70’s, the sense the artists were putting a lot of themselves into the music. Somewhat hidden behind his propensity towards well worn synth textures, Oriol’s music could stand to reflect the artist more than his aesthetic references.

Blaktony  on August 12, 2010 at 12:42 PM

The second track definitely is funky as hell; spacey w/nice key work (nice).

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