Under the Heterotic moniker, Planet Mu chief Mike Paradinas (he of µ-Ziq fame) and wife Lara Rix-Martin served up one of the most refreshingly satisfying debuts in recent times last year with the release of Love & Devotion, an unashamedly early ‘8os influenced synth-based collection that benefitted from an intriguing twist of house. The album featured psychedelic folk’s Gravenhurst (Nick Talbot) on vocals, which created a perfect combination, sounding at times like a new dawn for the future of music.
This time around, the Brighton duo have enlisted the wispier talents of French vocalist Matthieu Le Berre (aka Vezelay) and the results differ considerably from the debut, with vocals floating above electronica like a delicate musical instrument rather than a vocal performance. The effect of Talbot’s contribution on last year’s effort cannot be stressed enough, and in all honesty the new offering suffers in comparison as a consequence.
Of the seven tracks (of 12, although admittedly there are a couple of short instrumental fillers here) that feature Vezelay, the first to appear is Rain, the lead track from the first EP lifted from the album. It’s a dreamy affair: minimal tambourine providing percussion alongside an electronic drumbeat that mixes with decidedly late ‘80s sultry synth and Vezelay’s ethereal vocals. A slower electronic pulse beat opens Boxes before familiar synths return coupled with an almost identical vocal performance; floaty synths weave above before New Order-like synth punctuates the track amidst repetitive piano notes and strange, twisting effects.
Lumber continues the slow pace, creating a subtle industrial feel with constant keyboard riff peppering the otherworldly atmosphere, delicate vocals again sounding more like a gentle musical instrument than a human voice. Triumph begins to a faster, dancefloor synth beat but doesn’t really go anywhere, its repetitive three-note echo-laden synth sequence becoming rather irritating once it resurfaces after a break alongside occasional bass notes for the final two minutes of its total six.
Florence sounds a little confused: lots of reverb-synths, dabs of percussion, pulse beats and piano notes mix with Vezelay’s unconvincing vocals. Shoe Soul is another slowie, vocals start off sounding more fleshed out before retreating beneath the same dream-like cloud as before as they accompany more electronica that at times weirdly sounds like a slowed down version of the now rather dated theme tune from forgotten ‘80s Ronnie Corbett sitcom Sorry! Empires is the final track on the album to feature (samey) vocals, this time an electronic pulse marrying with weaving synths.
Of the instrumental tracks, album opener Self Importance is perhaps the most impressive, commencing in a Depeche Mode vein before transforming into something more akin to early ‘80s Ultravox or even Kraftwerk. Sultana is a mesmerising electronic experience that injects a funky disco feel to a melody that recalls Genesis’ That’s All amidst more synth mastery while Amniotic just sounds like background or incidental music of no real description.
It’s a different listen to that of Love & Devotion, the vocals this time having far less of a lasting impact, and there’s little in the way of tremendous standout tracks like Blue Lights and the captivating Wartime from that collection. This is a dreamier affair, lighter than air music that floats along like a wispy breeze; unfortunately, last year’s effort seems to have set a standard which has clearly proven difficult to recreate. The lack of contribution from Talbot is crucial in respect of songwriting as well as simply vocals, where Vezelay’s softly spun words fail to have the same stunning effect. For Heterotic to continue the promise from last year perhaps Mr Talbot should be approached once again, because the formula was quite simply breathtaking.