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October 6, 2008 | by  | in Music |
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Rhombus – Rhombus

Thomas Voyce, one of the core members of Rhombus, is also a tutor of Sonic Arts at the NZSM, and he once gave me a crap mark for a composition I did in a first year paper. Granted, the piece was pretty uninspired, devoid of creative spirit and rushed out in a couple of days, but it was pretty wounding.

Still, I won’t hold it against him. Rhombus’ new album – the third from the Wellington-based collective – is a fine piece of work. It’s a mix of primarily hip hop and funk with lots of jazzy harmonies (I refuse to use the term ‘Wellington Sound’), with vocals by locals Lisa Tomlins and Raashi Malik, and an assortment of local and overseas MCs and singers.

Points are scored for the low, low bass and strong, dancey beats that lend the tracks a kind of badass funkiness that similar efforts often fail to pull off. They keep the record from sounding too smooth or sweet, and make the grooves convincingly groovy.

There are also plenty of yummy timbres and textures, particularly on the opening track So Close and the chilled number Beautiful Things. Synthesised sounds and ‘real’ instruments are blended together smoothly – it’s difficult to tell what’s been created by a machine and what has been made by human fingers. The slightly grimy jazz organ that appears on many tracks is particularly nice. It’s obvious that a lot of attention has been paid to the timbre and quality of each track, and it really pays off. The overall sound is slightly raw, yet warm, and full of life.

The one thing I don’t entirely like about the album is the singing. Lisa Tomlins has a beautiful voice, but she’s been in so many different bands and on so many different albums now that I’ve stopped noticing it, and I can’t help wishing that there were less vocals in general on the album. The work of Voyce and fellow producers Simon Rycroft and Koa Williams is really the essence of Rhombus, and it is definitely interesting enough to hold its own without a vocalist. The one wholly instrumental song, Pinata, is a stand out, and probably my favourite track.

Unfortunately, because they’ve included as many different vocalists as possible, the album feels a bit chopped up. I can see why the idea of working with a range of vocalists is appealing, but the listener isn’t given enough time with each artist to fully get in to their sound. You’ve only just gotten used to one artist’s style before the song changes and someone else takes the mic.

Rhombus would have done better to limit the number of people involved in the album, keeping it simple and understated, and giving their audience more time to appreciate the oh-so-delicious musical background in each of the songs. But I’m not complaining.

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