Tropics Of Love 2LP / WAS Distribution

Back with his fifth studio album, Joakim immerses us in a web of dream-like house and techno textures. Tropics of Love pushes into realms of dark isolation and velvet sexuality, creating an album that is by turns ecstatic, nostalgic and melancholic. The LP shares its name with a collection of ink drawings by French artist Camille Henrot, whose images cover the record’s sleeve. The drawings feature composite creatures with voracious sexual appetites and a love for cross-dressing. And this release is no less startling.The album’s tripartite structure forms three ‘chapters’, each with their own narrative and flavour. The transition between each section is marked by chapter heading. “Chapter 1” begins with what appears to be the distinctive sonic lurch of a THX Sound System check, which is familiar to movie-goers the world over – but Joakim throws the sample into reverse before letting it grow to become the familiar ear-pounding roar. This is a good indicator of what lies ahead.Tropics of Love is a palette on which the colour and timbres of contemporary electronica are blended with consummate finesse. Joakim confounds expectation and makes a plethora of sub-genres rub together to create and auditory collage that is equally as transgressive and multifaceted as the artwork it draws upon. Perhaps that is to be expected, though, from an experienced musician. What is more startling is how natural these juxtapositions and superpositions feel in the context of the album.No doubt, this longplayer contains enough Balearic-infused bangers to make you believe that Joakim could easily have thrown together a collection of danceable floorfillers – job done, bob’s your uncle. The second track, “Bring Your Love”, is a gem featuring Luke Jenner (frontman of The Rapture). It’s enough to make you smell a summer evening in Barcelona, with it’s ethereal synths and latin-infused rhythms. It is more reminiscent of Delorean’s Barca-beat louche-ness than the French scene with which he is sometimes associated, the influence of which comes through heavily on “Heartbeats”. “This Is My Life” is a sequence of snapshots from the past twenty years. A computerised voice narrates great gigs, missed opportunities and small triumphs over industrial beats which blossom into a luxurious, ecstatic swell. But it’s not all like this.Joakim makes us work to get the most out of this album. Before giving us the warm, practically post-coital glow of “Each Other” (featuring Akwetey of Dragons Of Zynth), he first inserts the almost dystopian “Chapter 2”. Its fractured mix of silence, drilling synth and broken audio, which features a Foucault inspired discussion of madness and unreason, is a terrifying 50 seconds of psychological torture. It’s volatile, it’s abrasive and it shatters the rhythm of the album. You are never allowed to luxuriate in the position of listener. You are reminded never to get too comfortable.Ultimately, Tropics of Love is a collection that walks a difficult line, balancing aesthetic challenges with joyous summer hits. The cleverly engineered structure makes you feel like you once again understand why the album is a thing of beauty. It makes sense. It flows. And Joakim just makes it look so easy…

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