Aztec Camera – Dreamland

4 out of 5

Label: WEA

Produced by: Ryuichi Sakamoto

Every track on ‘Dreamland’ is memorable, but that’s solely on Roddy Frame’s compositional skills, sometimes despite Ryuichi Sakamoto’s arguably needless sonic embellishments.  While some of this would carry forward to Frestonia – namely the warm yet distinctive focus Ryuichi brings to the keys – it’s notable that that album would bring guitar back on the level with Frame’s voice, and then, of course, his solo career which has been pretty stripped down in general.  So it’s not exactly that Aztec Camera can’t work with some extras, but Frame is such a strong songwriter it doesn’t always pay to distract from that.  And that’s exactly what happens when the electronic tricks fuss too much with Dreamland: the sounds just don’t sync fully, and you’re momentarily pulled out of the vibe until Roddy’s tune kicks in.  Sakamoto tries to counter this with the levels, but again, the moments that play the best are those where you realize that guitar and voice are driving the thing.

Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like producer and artist were butting heads over this: more often than not, and at key moments, Ryuichi provides the tools but lets Frame work his magic, and it seems to enliven Roddy to deliver some excellent material that nails the black-lined happiness tonality that was sort of gone on ‘Love’ and thinned out during ‘Stray’s more stripped down approach.  So while Ryuichi’s additions don’t necessarily add anything directly, the gloss heightens the subversive nature of Roddy’s lyrical themes, making this perhaps his most engaging and satisfying listen, chronologically, since his debut.