Once Upon A Passion’s very expertise may be its undoing.
Swedish DJ-producer Bella Boo’s new album Once Upon A Passion explores only a few different moods. It nails those with expertise and a chilled out, downtempo verve, but that very expertise may be its undoing.
“Can’t Leave You Like This” opens with Kraftwerkian synth chords before settling into a charming bass drum-driven electro. From the start, this is a pleasingly upbeat album, rattles of percussion spiralling in the background while soft piano notes play against the spartan vocals. “She’s Back!” locates itself immediately with its acid house bassline and thin white-noise snare drums. Piano lifts it into a groovier late-night café mood, providing a continuity with the first track and at the same time making clear that these songs can be best considered as parts of a whole. “Tuesday” offers a more downbeat moment but utilises the same compositional elements; synths and percussion, multi-layered vocal lines and stabs. It’s with Nils Janson’s delightful trumpet that the song comes into its own, offering a smoky jazz-club feel along the lines of, say, Olive’s “This Time” or “Miracle,” less a song and more of an interregnum between the up-tempo tracks. Things pick up again with ‘Hotel Europa,” one of a three tracks to feature the hands or voices of others. Here the vocalist GnuččI provides cameo moments which, along with Boo’s own vocal stabs, are woven into the overall tapestry of the piece.
“Your Girlfriend” switches back to a slower mode, the lyrics telling a story from the perspective of the ‘other woman’ with Boo singing “I know all about her/ But I know I want you/ It’s like all these lies/ Created the truth.” “Stars” is another relaxed interlude before “Way Chill,” featuring Def Sound, picks the pace up once more. His vocal phrases mix well with Boo’s, the whole thing held together by a pulsing bassline and, as before, intricate and delicate percussion stylings. “Do the Right Thing” brings the horns back, adding more acid house flourishes, working to bring the album thematically back to where it started so that the final track, “Flightmode” offers Kraftwerk-ian synth bass, supplemented with vocal samples and a lolloping downtempo rhythm track.
Ultimately, the down side to Once Upon A Passion is Boo’s own ability as a musician and producer. Every compositional element is expertly handled and demonstrates Boo’s skill and, no doubt as a result of her work as a DJ, intimate understanding of these genres. But the problem when one adheres too closely to genre is that what’s produced so perfectly resembles its templates so closely as to be ultimately indistinguishable from them. This is not to damn with faint praise. The album is everything a summer evening, dinner party or barbeque album should be; expertly constructed, tightly designed and impeccably produced. But the overall effect is one more of curation than musicianship, and while this is a highly enjoyable album as it plays, it’s not missed once it finishes.