Gui Boratto: Take My Breath Away

So how do you follow up an album that catapults you to the front lines of the techno crowd? That's the challenge facing Brazilian producer Gui Boratto as he attempts to match the critical success of 2007's Chromophobia with his sophomore outing Take My Breath Away. The new collection amply proves he's mastered the art of rapturous ascent-descent in his sleek fusion of trance, techno, and pop. That he was formerly a student of architecture and design in his home town of São Paolo doesn't surprise, given the carefully-structured make-up of Boratto's material.

Certainly the soaring opener “Take My Breath Away” charts the right course with build-ups that constantly lift off for the stratosphere. The track, which boasts a chord progression that subtly recalls—really!—George Michael's “Father Figure,” is a textbook exercise in tension and release. The track's surging pulse repeatedly grows in force and intensity as Boratto lays the propulsion on thick and fast, and the hi-hats and beats have a snap and pop that are hard to resist. Slightly less arresting is “Atomic Soda,” a seething electro-burner that whirrs and writhes for a bass-bleeding and drum machine-chattering eight minutes, after which “Colors” finds Boratto pulling back from the techno style for a not entirely unconvincing stab at IDM-pop iridescence. “Opus 17” re-establishes the peak level of the opener by draping a swooning melodic line deepened with just the right amount of melancholy over a subtly pumping pulse, and “No Turning Back” follows suit with a charging 4/4 stomp that alternates a memorable twanging hook and supple vocal by Boratto's wife, Luciana Villanova, with grandiose choruses.

As the album goes on, however, a creeping sense of dissatisfaction sets in, as the tracks—meticulously-crafted though they may be—begin to underwhelm. Live drumming brings a heftier punch to “Les Enfants” but there's not much else to recommend it, while “Besides” opts for a tremolo guitar-drenched detour into burbling shoegaze-lite that's decent enough but hardly at the level of “Opus 17.” The club-ready banger “Ballroom” kicks up some much-needed dust but even its jacking slam seems dangerously close to going through the motions, and “Eggplant” likewise feels too much like it's spinning its wheels too. That the album closes with four minutes of melancholy piano playing awash in ambient hiss and underscored by a funereal pulse (“Godet”) isn't cause for celebration either.

Admittedly, Boratto finds himself in a bit of a tough spot: issue an album's worth of Chromophobia-styled retreads and you're guilty of artistic stasis; extend the brand into new stylistic territory (as he's done on Take My Breath Away) and you risk diluting impact by not playing to your strengths (in a perfect world, of course, Boratto would be capable of elevating all of those other styles to the same level as his signature style). Ultimately, the album comes across as only semi-successful when only a handful of transcendent cuts share space with material that's merely passable by comparison. Tailor-made for the iTunes era, Take My Breath Away's prime cuts are the title track, “Opus 17,” and “No Turning Back.”

April 2009