ARTIST: Juno Reactor
A drastic change in direction for Juno Reactor, the latest release from band founder Ben Watkins and friends all but abandons the high-BPM aggression and tense tribal beats of the project's previous album. "Tanta Pena" comes closest to what fans of Juno Reactor have come to expect, with its Middle Eastern string melodies and thumping techno heaviness; "City of the Sinful" is likewise highly charged, though wah-wah pedals and electric guitar, provided by Sugizo of Japanese rock outfit Luna Sea, give it a vibe that's at least as much rock 'n' roll as tribal dance. Of course, Watkins has made a career out of defying expectations since he first evolved out of the goa trance of his earliest work, and once you become accustomed to the idea that this album marks yet another change in direction for Juno Reactor, it's much easier to enjoy these songs on their own merits. "Inca Steppa," despite the South American flavor suggested by its title, is full of mellow but dark Caribbean attitude, complete with reggae toasting and skanking guitar chords. "Tokyo Dub" brings together elements of trip-hop and soul, with falsetto male vocals shadowed by eerie theremin effects. Most surprising of all, though, is album closer "Pretty Girl." Featuring a rare vocal performance by Watkins himself, backed by pianos and a gospel choir, it's less tribal techno than an old school New York glam ballad, and if not for the fact that Watkins actually has better vocal chops, you could almost mistake it for a lost Lou Reed recording from the 1970s. Needless to say, it's a pretty far cry from the bombast of Juno Reactor's last album, but fans with an appreciation for slower, more thoughtful material are sure to appreciate this new insight into Watkins' versatility. If a few techno and trance purists get lost along the way, perhaps that's just the price of artistic growth.
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