When I first began venturing onto the Internet and forming friendships and relationships with people all over the world, the thing that often served as the initial and primary bond between us was — surprise — music. Friends in other countries would turn me on to musicians from their neck of the woods, artists that, if left to my own devices, I would never have discovered in a million years. For example, Spain’s Lost Balance.
Despite having been released in 2001 and delving pretty heavily into the trip-hop side of things, Air Control feels surprisingly undated. And if you’ve ever ventured into trip-hop, you know how easy it is for that music to sound distinctly turn-of-the-century, stuck in its own ultra-cool, ultra-suave world.
Not that that necessarily means the music is no good, mind you. It’s just that the genre as a whole seems stuck in its own little timewarp, and really hasn’t progressed much despite offering such a tantalizing futuristic (and swanky) vibe back in the day.
Air Control certainly has its fair share of jazzy, funky rhythms, femme fatale female vocals, and sultry atmospherics. And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure why this feels different than so much of the trip-hop/downtempo stuff I’ve heard. Perhaps it’s because Lost Balance doesn’t rely entirely on Isabel Benedi’s lovely voice. Mariano Rodriguez sings on a number of tracks, such as “Playing Field” and “Warped Cool,” and his deep voice lends the music a certain air of mystique (and sleepiness) that is different than that created by Benedi’s.
And while countless trip-hop outfits have leeched their drifts and atmospherics from smoky jazz lounges, gritty urban cityscapes, and whatnot, Lost Balance instead looks to the sounds of classic 4AD. Album opener “Third Skin” is easily the greatest track that the sadly overlooked Insides never recorded, with Benedi’s seductive voice half-singing/half-speaking over delicate guitar filigrees and shuffled drums. Those same guitar textures will pop up throughout the album, lending a gossamery touch to many songs.
Finally, there’s Lost Balance’s tendency to get just a little off. “Fortress” is a remarkably unhinged track for a trip-hop outfit, with skittering breakbeats and epileptic jazz hits intermixed with vibes, guitar squiggles, and Rodriguez’ cryptic and creepy voice bouncing back and forth between the speakers. It’s less Massive Attack, and more Disco Inferno, and you can’t go wrong with that in my book.
If your view of trip-hop has always been as the ultimate hipster music, as music better suited for expensive salons, uber-chic malls, and car commercials, then Air Control is an album that might open your eyes and perk up your ears. Like the earlier, more electronic offerings of Mus, Lost Balance sports enough of the standard trip-hop trappings to sneak into your rotation and look great doing so, but they also have enough oddness and idiosyncrasy about them to ensure that they leave an impression.