Croatian Amor – Examining the lethargic melancholia of the digital age

Kritik January 31 2019
Photo: Jane Pain
Photo: Jane Pain

Croatian Amor: “Isa” (Posh Isolation, 2019) – review by Ivna Franić

Returning with his first album since 2016’s gorgeous “Love Means Taking Action”, Croatian Amor once again delves into desolate moods and meditations on navigating the digital world. If the previous LP hadn’t made it clear enough that the project was moving away from the tried combo of warm bubbly synths and crude industrial noises, 2017’s “Finding People” EP and the accompanying live shows made it known that the change was here to stay. “Isa” sees Loke Rahbek further follow this path, leaving behind certain elements that made his previous album work so well – such as the light touch of goth romanticism layered over experimental ambiance – in order to make room for new ideas.

As the opener kicks off with narration by a fragmented voice, you might find yourself expecting a drop introducing the beats, or a sudden noisy turn to make an appearance by the end of the track – avenues likely to be pursued in a similar situation by contemporaries like Chino Amobi or Rabit. “Towards Isa”, however, simply continues to linger on before morphing into the next track. Some sort of drop eventually does turn up mid-“Point Reflex Blue”, spiced up by one of record’s several strong hooks. The spoken word parts appear on a few more tracks, their glitchy processed vocals combined with abstract noises, strings and other sounds. Throughout the record, tracks spill over one into the other, creating a welcome flow among all the chopped beats, clanks and scattered ideas, making its 35 minutes flow by quickly.

“Isa” is at its best when it finds middle ground between deconstructed sounds and emotional explorations, like on “Siren Blur” whose second half evolves into a pleasant romantic break in the vein of Rabhek’s early works; on the closer “In World Cell” whose chorus continues to echo long after the record has finished playing, or on the stand-out “Dark Cut”. The latter, featuring HTRK’s Jonnine Standish, might make you wonder if its appeal mostly lies in the fact that everyone is always hungry for new HTRK material (in any form), but it is hard to deny the charm of a collaboration that seems like a natural match.

Overall, the record opts to focus on the lethargic melancholia of today’s digital landscape rather than on the politically charged, confrontational urgency through which many of Rahbek’s contemporaries channel the modern anxieties. And while the former instinctively seems like a better fit for Croatian Amor, here he actually tries to incorporate a bit of the latter into the story as well. 

And this is where the album falls short of the self-imposed expectations, mostly due to a lack of substance in Rahbek’s ruminations. Even in their associative, free form, the derivative spoken word lyrics mostly come off as having little function apart from making the record appear “relevant”. Any critical position on “Isa” is merely suggested or even obfuscated, like on “Eden 1.1.” where a digitized spoken-word part is accompanied by laughter, as if providing a key to a satirical reading.

Like a much colder, industrial version of Arca’s “Mutant” with digitized voices echoing Angels Rig Hook and The Great Game“Isa” floats in the space between conveying a certain message about and vaguely hinting at issues such as digital communication and surveillance (while possibly mocking the whole idea of making any sort of statement). Which is a shame because musically the record does more or less successfully capture the spirit of the times, so it ultimately feels like it’s trying too hard to accomplish something Rahbek is already good at anyway. Quite a smooth listen in spite of its sharp edges, the album drifts between the gentle but potent emotional resonance of the earlier Croatian Amor work and the deconstructed sounds of today’s experimental electronic music, mostly leaving the listener thinking what an amazing record it could have been had it only managed to seamlessly marry the two. Despite in part feeling neither as sonically exciting nor as emotionally engaging as it could have been, “Isa” does provide its fair share of strong tracks that will make you come back to it, at least for a few more listens.

Info: “Isa” was released by Posh Isolation on January 25.