Luomo Explores Uncharted Territory

Scandinavian electronic artist Luomo, a.k.a. Vladislav Delay, experiments with words and sound on new American release

Courtesy OF Kinetic records

Vladislav Delay, the man and brains behind Luomo, recently released his newest album, The Present Lover, in the United States.

Even when Vladislav Delay was known for his obtuse abstractions on the Mille Plateaux label rather than his dancefloor-tinged output as Luomo, the influence of techno and house rhythms on his productions was clear. It was his debut Luomo album, Vocalcity, which perfected the marriage of experimentation and functionality, becoming an icon of the nascent subgenre known as “microhouse.” Tracks like “Tessio” and “Class” were radically insular for house music. Instead of satisfying that genre’s anthemic impulse, they called attention to their nuanced internal rhythms, suggesting the need to listen actively with one’s ears as much as the body. Intercut by melody and vocals (lyrics, even), Vocalcity’s sonic architecture stepped above dance music’s endless formal dialogue to articulate some semblance of “actual” content—even if that essentially amounted to “I love you.”

Just by arriving at a middle ground between “funk” and “meaning,” Luomo creates a limbo between the two which hadn’t really existed before in club music. Perhaps that tension is what makes his tracks so strangely alluring to both critics and fans. Delay is exuberant about the prevalence of vocals in his music, pointing out that they’re an easy way of making tracks more “human and soulful sounding.”

On The Present Lover: “I was quite influenced by the American R&B and hip-hop style of producing [vocals]…anything from Brandy to Justin Timberlake,” he says. “I wanted to explore the possibilities of what you can do after you have these things…how you can experiment, create something new.” The followup to Vocalcity, finally released stateside, is full of words. Sung and spoken by members of both sexes, they sound like snippets of relationships—whispered nothings, awkward everyday moments, resigned pleas over the telephone—conjuring the feeling of being there without seeming one bit trite.

The utter immediacy is key. For Delay, simply making music that resembles house isn’t enough. Here he does away with the sublteties of Vocalcity altogether, bringing every single element into the foreground. The vocalists hover in front of the speakers; the textures glisten with superhuman perfection; the percussion bangs harder and the low-end feels like being hugged tightly. Listening to The Present Lover is an hour-long rush up the spine, with eyes wide open.

“Even on Vocalcity I tried to make [the] sound more clear, but I only came halfway because of my skills,” says Delay, who is self-learned. “Also, back then I was under the influence of lots of drugs. Lately I’ve been trying to stay a little more clean and healthy and definitely get my ears more open…it usually takes time to go someplace where you’d like to go, especially when you have to find your own way to do it. [The Present Lover] is more how I feel, how Luomo should sound.”

In “Talk in Danger” a female voice cries, “I ain’t here to disappoint you, girl,” over and over again until the words hit the subconscious and the phrase becomes a groove. The lifeless repetition and curious androgyny signal that this music isn’t really about “people”—it’s about you and the record, about changing the way you listen and feel and care about it. When Delay says he’d “like more variety and personality” in what most DJs play, he means it much more than that.

—Staff writer Ryan J. Kuo can be reached at kuo@fas.harvard.edu.