CD Review of Smoke Rings by Dri
Recommended if you like
Area, Saint Etienne, Jem
Label
Range Life
Dri: Smoke Rings

Reviewed by Jason Thompson

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S
uffice it to say that Smoke Rings is a bit of an oddity. There seem to be some good ideas running through this album from time to time, but its quirkiness is its ultimate undoing. If slightly left of center is your thing, you might find a bit to enjoy here. But don’t be surprised if at the end of it all you’re feeling fore than a little unsatisfied. It’s just that sort of listen.

Dri is Adrianne Verhoeven (Art in Manila, the Anniversary) who has one of those voices that is at once both spooky and arresting. She’s got the range, she’s got the unique sound, but overall her musical collaborators here (DJ Josh Powers, 1,000,000 Light Years and producer Nezbeeat) don’t seem to know what to do with her. There’s a lot of electronic noodling and some genuinely pretty moments, but you get the feeling that these guys were just throwing things against the proverbial wall and hoping that most of them would stick.

One of the most annoying things about this album is how short many of the songs are. So many times, a song seems like it’s just taking off and either it abruptly ends or it’s faded out quickly. “Goodnight, Baby,” clocking in at a mere 57 seconds, is the most obvious offender, but “Hot As Hades,” at a minute and forty-six seconds, and “Meet Me Out” coming in just a little over two minutes, don’t help matters much. The rather short running times make the songs feel more like sketches than actual songs. Maybe that’s all they were meant to be, but they hardly leave a lasting impression,

However, one of the shorter tracks, “Don’t Wait,” does work quite well and sounds like the kind of catchy trippiness that Jem likes to record. The song is concise yet complete, has a nice vocal hook, and the lean sampled beats and groove do it justice. It sounds like a good summertime song. Too bad, then, that so much of the rest of the album falters right out of the gate.

Opening track “Two Are One” is brooding and sounds like it’s coming out of some old empty museum, with lots of echo and separated spatial sonics. It’s not too unlike Portishead and could even give some of that band’s seminal tracks a good run for their money. “Indria,” on the other hand, grows quickly annoying with its scale-climbing sample and tribal-like percussion. It sounds skittish and may very well send you for some nerve pills after it’s over.

“You Know I Tried” reaches for the bliss of St. Etienne and almost makes it, but falls a little short thanks to its tiring backing samples. However, “Inspiration” sounds like a creepy-as-hell ghost from the 1950s coming back to haunt everyone who hears it. It’s almost like a deathly siren’s call, hypnotic and inviting. Definitely one of the more successful experiments out of the bunch.

“Free Tonight” is definitely one of the most “modern”-sounding tunes on the album, with the production bringing things out of the attic and onto the dancefloor. Granted, that dancefloor might be in an alternate reality somewhere, but you get the idea. The beats work, as does the instrumentation and all-around groove. “What’s Real” attempts a follow-up style, but its repeated wordless refrain gets rather old quickly.

Smoke Rings isn’t a bad album, it’s just a bit confusing. The kitchen sink approach doesn’t quite fit, and Verhoeven would be best suited finding someone else for her sonic jobs. She seems like she’d do better with a more fleshed-out sound than with the oddball tinkering going on in the mixes here. Think of this album and Dri as a musical curiosity shop: There are a few things that will catch your attention, but you’ll forget all about them as soon as the next curio sinks its hooks in.

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