Salsa with Mesquite

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µ-Ziq peeks his head into the U.S. with this first Astralwerks-associated release, and with mixed results. The opening title track showcases ear-splitting atonal keyboard stabs and Kabuki vocal samples that finally give way to Mike Paradinas' trademark of over-distorted drum machines. "Happi" comes next, bouncing sweetly like some reworked Esquivel song with half the compositional value and twice the redundancy. Just as monotonous comes the simplicity and forward-thinking club-dub of "Loam" that, at best, has a good build to it. "Reflectiv" follows, sounding like the closing theme to a high-school-in-space, made-for-TV movie. Light at the end of the tunnel comes in the form of "Leonard," like a red-headed stepchild who surprises the listener with some engaging melodies amidst the crunchy diet of drums. But then something completely unexpected happens -- not since his mesmerizing "On (µ-Ziq Mix)" for Aphex Twin has Paradinas tapped into such brilliance -- this time for his own composition, "Balsa Lightning." Acoustic piano basslines give way to chewing-gum keyboard riffs and soaring counter melodies before a single burst of percussion ever comes through the door, and when it does there's no question that this is one of those "best of the artist" moments -- a great build with a great pay-off -- and it's easily overlooked because the rest of the disc seems to fall so short of the same caliber. A gratuitous remix follows in its wake, "Balsa Lightening (Jake Slazenger Mix)," that puts the tempo at half-speed with funkier drums and thematic rock star keyboard solos that reveal his alter ego having a playful time. Simply by association, this is the second best track of the EP. It's hard to know how to rate a recording like this: it's a single diamond surrounded by so much rough. In the case of this release, "Balsa Lightening" only strikes once, but with such a crackle that it just about splits the sky in half. Buy this disc, and go directly to track six.

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