4 Track, Single (2010, Independent)
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Related: Macromantics, Romy.
With 2006's Moments in Movement (recorded under former moniker Macromantics) and its accompanying explanations, you could say we were amply forewarned. At the time, most interviews with the then 26-year-old Romy Hoffman hinted at a restless and provocative musical sensibility that wouldn't be confined to any one style for long. Harder to stomach, perhaps, would be the notion that the indie hip-hop firebrand's lyrical snarl would find a new home in one of the world's least eloquent genres: disco.
‘Sleep’ is an upbeat dancefloor kicker, playing a straight beat off against plucky 909 rimshots and fat, buzzing bass stabs. Paying homage to the modern Italo Disco revival is the eerie quiver of a chorused synthesiser, the likes of which could easily have been lifted from Glass Candy's ‘Life After Sundown’, or a bad tele-movie about ghosts. (Those familiar with boutique label Italians Do It Better will recognise similarity to Johnny Jewel's favoured "mysterious arpeggio".) When the vocals kick in, two or three Romys (Romies?) sing diva-like about the usual stuff: mirror balls, love, dancing and how late at night it is. The track is strongest in its climax, where the song's “Intense” feeling surges to something resembling “Dramatic”.
While the single is no slouch tempo-wise, autumnal DJs are more likely to be spinning its remix by The Juan Maclean. The track has a compelling, spacious bounce, punctuated by string stabs and twinkles: allusions to early 1990s commercial house chart hits. Its dissonant, stilted delivery is memorable on repeat listens, only occasionally in a bad way – with its repetition of slices of Romy's vocals (“Teach me, teach me, teach me, teach me”, and so on).
The song receives yet another reworking courtesy of Brain Children, which sounds like poor old John Cougar Mellencamp's ‘Jack and Diane’ sped up for the modern age. Nostalgic synth noodling and Moog-ish bass round out the arrangement, which loses its beat halfway and ultimately sounds like the kind of song you'd hear over the end credits of a film that ends happily.
But it's not all about happy endings. ‘Love Is Life’ breaks the feeling of resolution with cutting synth pop and a bassline that squirts and quavers with pulsing conviction. A melancholy descending melody cuts through a sea of chirping keys while Romy sings her verses through a fog thick with delay and the memory of ESG's Scroggins sisters.
With only two of the single's four tracks produced by Hoffman herself – and those two vastly different – it's difficult to estimate with any certainty whether her production can match the innovative quality of former collaborator Buchman. There is a sense that the songs could benefit from more dynamism; then again, these tight and loud numbers will sound good on the radio. What is clear on ‘Sleep’ is that Romy handles the challenges of MCing better than those of her ambitious melodies. There's something a bit off about her delivery; falling short of some notes, overshooting others. And at other times, it feels as though she's still spitting things out a bit harshly; remnants of her former life, perhaps?
Regardless, there's little more interesting than watching artists shift direction – and Romy's metamorphosis will be one worth observing.
by Babette Gladney