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Lorenzo BITW - Love Junction Music Album Reviews

Lorenzo BITW - Love Junction Music Album Reviews

The past decade of British club music looms large on Lorenzo Calpini’s breezy debut album, which enlists a global cast of guest vocalists to broaden the Rome-based producer’s sound.

Lorenzo Calpini makes chromatic, high-sheen club tracks with the precision of an obsessive fan and the breezy insouciance of an outsider. Based in Rome, he fell for UK sound system music from afar, devouring Rinse FM podcasts in the golden years after dubstep’s peak, when UK funky briefly reigned supreme. He upgraded his distance learning to a full degree with a two-year stint in Leeds—where he concluded, with some disappointment, that British ravers were more interested in getting wrecked than in appreciating the music. (Not a totally unfair assessment.)

It was once Calpini returned to Rome that he found his footing as a producer and DJ, inspired by the syncopation of UK funky and the complementary sounds of Lisbon kuduro, as well as the African rhythms that form the roots of both styles. His singles and EPs to date have slotted in easily on London’s Nervous Horizon and Lisbon’s Enchufada, two labels where brawny drums take center stage. But on his debut album, he brings in a crew of vocalists to broaden his scope.

Love Junction arrives via Friends of Friends, the LA label that’s home to artists like Groundislava and Shlohmo—beatmakers who aren’t necessarily aiming for the dancefloor—and it’s a breezy fusion of Calpini’s influences to date. The past decade of UK club music looms large; you can hear the dreamy post-dubstep of Mount Kimbie in the reverb-heavy guitars of “Kanaan” and the peppy Afro-swing of J Hus in “Hello!” and “Come Over.” African instruments and rhythms pop up throughout the record, sometimes nodding to the hypnotic pulse of vintage Afrobeat. Threading it all together is Calpini’s particular synth sound: warm, gooey, and a little bit wistful, as if weighed down by the nostalgia of a distant onlooker.

His collaborators include Ghanaian rapper Nawtyboi Tattoo, the star of Love Junction’s two biggest pop moments: “Come Over,” a blazing-bright production with a chorus from Ghanaian singer Lamisi; and the ecstatic “Hello!,” a ridiculously catchy Afro-swing hit-in-waiting that feels built for Carnival season. What Nawtyboi lacks in lyrical dexterity, he makes up for in sheer exuberance—turning a single, globally recognized word into an entire chorus isn’t as easy as he makes it look. Also on the sound system side, dancehall bumper “Clearing My Mind” features the Auto-Tuned warble of Jamaican singjay 45DiBoss over grimey, square wave synths and a rhythm that cracks open dembow’s regular thump to make something refreshingly wonky. “Chasing” is less successful; Bristol singer Chikaya brings a yearning R&B vocal to a slow-motion house groove that’s warm as a bubble bath but fades when it should be taking off.

The vocal tracks are evenly interspersed with instrumentals, which makes sense on paper but doesn’t always feel natural. On the groove-based tracks, Calpini leans into his African influences, but rather than building endless grooves in an Afrobeat style, he tends to change course every four or eight bars, betraying a restless, puppyish energy. The best results come when he lets himself go with the flow. On the title track, techno and Afrobeat collide naturally; the metallic buzz of the Tanzanian zeze provides an organic pulse as skittish saxophone cuts a looping trail through the groove, like an insect on the breeze. “Rio Grande” is a keeper, too, resembling Calpini’s drum-heavy early singles with its insistent, rattling conga and one huge, fat question mark of a synth, teeing you up for a drop that doesn’t land where you’d expect. But “Lips & Bones” is overstuffed: It riffs on a combination of Night Slugs-style fruity keys and grotty, basement-rave drums, but there’s just too much going on, even before the Latin jazz drum breakdown.

Still, it’s rare to encounter a club producer with such versatility at his fingertips. Being an outsider can bless you with a fresh perspective, as grime MC Kwam points out in the opening seconds of drum workout “Goo”: “We got some different flavor here... from mainland Europe.” Love Junction has a relentless enthusiasm that’s hard to resist, even when Calpini’s surplus of globally sourced ideas don’t quite stick together.

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