Onra – Long Distance
All City Records: 2010
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Let’s cut straight to the chase, Onra’s fourth lp Long Distance leaves much to be desired. Though I am unfamiliar with his previous work, this being a departure or continuation of his sound means little to the quality of this album. I have no qualms grouping Onra with the vast umbrella of the current “beat generation”. Yet, Onra does have a sound that separates it from his glitchy, wonky, ambient-electro counterparts. Long Distance transports us back to the days of Jehri Curls, Members Only jackets and Raw era Eddie Murphy. The production stank of Rick James’ Street Songs and MJ’s Thriller is pervasive, but Long Distance is half-baked boogie and lukewarm space funk.
The album gets off to a damn good start with “Intro” and “My Comet”, but quickly unravels into obsessively synth-driven grooves that ramble on for three and four minutes with little qualifier. I am getting at the fact that the songs on Long Distance have little to offer in form of a strong stucture: no bridges, little choruses, with minimal breakdowns and tempo change ups. “Sitting Back”, “Moving”, “Don’t Stop”, and “Oper8tor” all suffer from this quality. Even the songs with vocalist seem to meander through tepid grooves hoping to truly jam. The puzzling swanky odyssey of “My Mind Is Gone” is a glaring example of the short comings. The song opens with featured singer Olivier Daysoul rambling nothings, followed by a hook, a pseudo verse, the hook returns, than the beat just rides out for near a minute and a half. It leaves the listener wondering what was trying to be executed thematically and rhythmically.
A predominately vocal-less album, concerned with the step-child of disco and funk would seem to be earnestly concerned with having more rhythmically dynamic songs, but it is not. With songs such as “The One”, “Tape This” and “To The Beat”, Long Distance sounds more like a beat tape of ideas, than actual developed songs. Yet, Onra’s jewel in the synthetic dust is “Mechanical”. A semi-epic groove that cleverly conceals “Thriller’s” pulse, and slowly adds various elements that make the body rock, eventually deconstructing into a jarring change up at its end. “Mechanical” is easily the albums brightest star.
Lastly, I will admit that Long Distance seems to be made for the club. Unfortunately, it’s a club from a time passed and has little hope to be played in such a setting today, outside of niche local scenes. It is also undeniable that Onra has an ear for melody and groove, yet on this album he failed to execute them properly. Long Distance thus comes off sounding like mimicry, rather an innovative re-interpretation of a sound that once dominated the speakers of Reagan’s ignored demographics.