Friends in Faraway Places
Just Music / 2006
With the aptly named
Friends in Faraway Places, Laroca skillfully adds gently
funky and exotic elements to a solid downtempo foundation.
of Oxford residents Olly Wakeford and Rob Pollard, the British duo
has assembled a varied collection of tunes for its first full-length.
The group's instrumentation is somewhat unusual; in addition to
keys and programming (by both) and bass and guitar (by Pollard),
Laroca's tunes prominently feature flute (by Wakeford). To the project's
credit, it largely succeeds in incorporating an instrument sometimes
tainted by its association with Muzak. Friends in Faraway Places
also features a host of guest performers (among them two vocalists),
and the album's use of real cello, oboe, saxophone, and trumpet
helps reinforce its overall organic feeling.
The opening track, the
all-too-brief "La douleur exquise"French for "exquisite
sorrow"lives up to its name. "Looking Like Lions"
follows, accentuated by scratching and propelled by beats that mean
business. With its abstract Eastern-flavored vocals, it's reminiscent
of Thievery Corporation, but harder-edged, more ominous, and more
definitively linked to the dancefloor. A few tracks later, "What's
Odd About Chess" is similarly energetic, boasting a funky bassline.
The delivery of rapper Mantmast enhances the tune, even if his rhymes
sometimes leave a bit to be desired.
On the more downtempo
side, the album's strengths include "Generalife," which
creeps in on little cat feet with the sound of pizzicato strings.
The muted Rhodes sound of "Plage Lodo" evokes the laid-back
feeling of Air's Moon Safari, but with the addition of crisp
percussion. The gently housey "Latin"more synth-flavored
than the other tracks on the albumpleasantly calls to mind Joe
Jackson's "Steppin' Out." The Eastern-tinged vocals of
"Looking Like Lions" return in "Theme Flamboyant,"
whose trumpet flourishes conjure up Spain, perhaps the Arab-influenced
region of Andalusia.
In all, Friends in
Faraway Places is an accomplished debut that marks Laroca as
a project to watch. CM