Heterotic :: Weird Drift (Planet Mu)

Breathy falsetto vocals and new-found, hazy dream pop settings.

For those of you still unaware, Heterotic is Planet Mu label-owner Mike Paradinas (µ-ziq/Jake Slazenger/Kid Spatula) and his wife Lara Rix-Martin, a collaborative project that pairs Paradinas’ famous µ-ziq stylings with a pop sensibility and prominent guest vocals.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that sounds like an uneasy partnership given that melody, quirky production techniques and genre-bending often bordering on comical parody—think “Carpet Muncher” from Royal Astronomy or pretty much any of his Jake Slazenger output—are already a mainstay of Paradinas’ work. Heterotic’s debut album Love And Devotion proved however, that such a collaboration could yield exceptionally beautiful results. Though not one hundred percent successful Nick Talbot’s Talk Talk-esque vocals turned tracks like “Slumber” and “Blue Lights” into quintessential pop tracks.

Like its predecessor, Heterotic’s sophomore album, Weird Drift has an exceptionally strong instrumental opener, “Self-Importance” all plastic sputter, neon-lit, retro synth keys, taut bass and choral pads, followed by a vocal highlight, in this case the dreamy “Rain” released prior to the album as a promotional single.

Vezelay’s breathy falsetto vocals are a perfect foil for Heterotic’s new-found, hazy dream pop settings, recalling at times a less woozy/wonky Paco Sala. But it isn’t long before they reveal themselves to be the first of several problems with Weird Drift. For the most part they work extremely well, but Vezelay does seem to have great stylistic range, his delivery pretty much identical in every track. The result is a one-note performance that often feels out of place or forced, tracks like “Shoe Soul,” for example, crying out for a vocalist like Jamie Liddell.

This isn’t helped by the occasionally weird production, with both “Boxes” and “Lumber” featuring leaden percussion bordering on the bludgeoning that’s both overpowering and at odds with Vezelay’s vocals. “Boxes” in particular is like being repeatedly hit over the head by cushions—amusing for a few seconds until the novelty wears off.

When the specific formula works, however, it works perfectly. The aforementioned “Rain” is a good example, but an even better one might be “Triumph,” the coruscating arpeggios, tightly edited loops and clanging, metallic palette elevated by Vezelay’s repeating, multi-tracked vocal harmonies and refrains. It’s one of the longest tracks on the album, but this never really shows because everything is working in harmony to create a genuinely heady, narcotic experience.

“Florence” is a gauzy, powdery haze of percussion, pitch-bent synth strings coupled with a particularly fine vocal performance, and “Empires” is the exultant, building finale that Love And Devotion never had (ironically given the title of the last track), all synth horns, gutsy piano, rolling chords, insistent beats and crashing, Vezelay floating angelically above it all in his reverb chamber.

The other slight issue with Weird Drift is the incongruity of its somewhat random mix of instrumental and vocal tracks. The contrast wasn’t as obvious on Love & Devotion, which pretty much alternated between instrumental and song. Had that same approach been adopted here, which would have been possible had the excellent “Problemo” and “The Tripods” been included rather than paired with “Rain” for the promotional single—an odd decision as there was no physical release, unlike µ-ziq’s “XTEP” from 2013—it might have worked better.

“Liverpool” and “Foghorn” are quirky little ditties that would have worked perfectly as segues between two songs, but instead both precede instrumental tracks. The glittering haze and crystalline spikes of the shuffling “Sultana” and the quivering “Amniotic” are so strongly reminiscent of µ-ziq that it’s hard to think of them as anything else when they stand out like this.

There’s a wealth of fantastic material on Weird Drift, and though undoubtedly not cheap, easy or necessarily even viable, the issues with the songs could probably be addressed by featuring more than one guest vocalist. Weird Drift is nevertheless highly recommended, as is picking up the Rain single for its bonus tracks.

Weird Drift is available on Planet Mu.

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