Lackluster: What You Want Isn't What You Need: Textura Review
Certainly choosing a moniker like Lackluster is a risky move, even if it rolls off the tongue more easily than Esa Juhani Ruoho, the Finnish artist behind the mask. Luckily, the ten tracks constituting his New Speak debut are anything but lackluster. Given that the songs were produced between 1996 and 2003, Ruoho's seemingly cleaning out his cupboard yet the material, while not innovative or visionary, hardly sounds stale.
Songs sparkle dreamily as cascading keys, chiming music-box melodies, meditative synth clusters, and euphoric washes stream over jittery beats and softly shimmying rhythms. The album might just as easily have been titled The Many Moods of Esa Juhani Ruoho, given its propensity for segueing from one mood to another; “Down” weaves a brittle industrial ambiance, “Swamped” nurtures subtle melancholy from reverberant flutter, and “Dropouts” scampers with manic beatwork. Traces of Plaid's signature jubilance pervade “Kosmos7” when querulous electronic creatures awaken amidst snapping, squelchy beats while “0today8,” a comparative epic at 5 minutes, lurches to life with shuddering synth patterns, churning bass exhalations, and off-beat chimes. The collection's purely electronic sound is clean, inviting, and rich without being claustrophobic, and, at 37 succinct minutes, each song appears, makes its case with agreeable dispatch, and then gets out of the way. If tracks like “N” and “Bkt” show Ruoho's forte isn't titling songs, it matters little when the material is so consistently strong.