To New York-based producer Joakim, the Tropics Of Love sound pretty sweet. Like a sugar-soaked pina colada under a palm tree. Or a cotton candy poof on top of a chocolate fudge sundae. His last LP, 2011′s Nothing Gold, featured the same airy beat work, and yet there was something darker about it. Back then, there was an infusion of bass and thudding percussion; lyrics like “my love is gone.” Now, on his fifth full-length album, Joakim explores this brightness shift through 12 tracks of slightly esoteric ecstasy in the form of arbitrary synth stabs and abstract percussion blares.
One of the album’s structural beams is its insistence on performing as a narrative, even utilizing spoken-word bios to propel the LP forward. Tropics Of Love opens with Chapter 1, an obvious starting point, if not an easy entry point. The track creates an atmosphere of detachment with droning space blips and searing, industrial synths. Chapter 2 comes a little later, with stuttering, gravity-less beats and a spoken word monologue in French that would be rough to trudge through if it weren’t only 44 seconds long.
This Is My Life continues this sense of detachment, and probably takes it a little too far. Using a single robotic voice, Joakim maps out a life: “In 1976, I was born in Paris/In 1978, I drowned in a swimming pool in Miami.” Though its nearly seven minutes of air time starts to seem unnecessary, the track layers in soft harmonies, a thumping beat and feedback stabs, creating a more complex, enjoyable song by the end.
The album’s high points—the yawning, slick Bring Your Love and the blurred, brassy Man Like Moon—are most indicative of that sweet side I mentioned earlier. It’s during tracks like these when Joakim leaves himself room to stretch out, constantly layering squishy keys (RX777), Vocoder yawns (On The Beach) and New Wave sighs (Heartbeats), so the song is always moving. Tropics Of Love is an experiment in intertia. When it’s good, it stays good, and when it’s not, it’ll be over by the time you swallow your pina colada.