Ikonika: Aerotropolis

That Ikonika (Sara Abdel-Hamid) chose to title the full-length successor to Contact, Want, Love, Have, her breakout 2010 debut, Aerotropolis says much about the fifty-two-minute album's tone and its creator's restless spirit. The word itself refers to a relatively recent concept in urban design that treats the airport as a city's nucleus, and so the term naturally resonates for globe-trotting DJs for whom the airport has become a second home. As Ikonika herself says, “I'm constantly watching planes take off and twitching that I didn't get a booking this weekend, needing to play out.” Without wishing to stretch the connection too far, the liberation one associates with flying also can be heard in a jubilant album track such as “Eternal Mode.”

That aforementioned restlessness is immediately evident in the jittery patterns and day-glo synths fluttering through the brief album opener “Mise en place,” but it's the second cut, “Beach Mode (Keep It Simple),” that, being the first Ikonika track to feature vocals, signals the first major advance in her sound. And what a beautiful vocal it is, with Jessy Lanza's sensual singing a fabulous addition to a clubby jam whose chugging, synth-heavy groove veritably oozes joy. Lanza's so good, one wishes Ikonika might have included her on another song or two.

Not that the album's weakened by her subsequent absence—tracks like “Mr Cake” and “Eternal Mode” are effervescent electro-pop instrumentals that sparkle and soar splendidly, and when the shimmying, hand-clapping snap of “Lights are Forever” kicks in, the presence or absence of a singer'll be the furthest thing from your mind. Ikonika's world is a thoroughly synthetic one, as evidenced by “Manchego,” which overlays a charging, stop-start pulse with layers of synths and “Let a Smile be (Y)our Umbrella,” a funky, hard-grooving anthem whose hyperactive synth lines Ikonika sweetens with fingersnaps and spacious atmospheres.

A darker side of Ikonika's music comes to the fore during the lightspeed techno of “Cryo” and the foreboding sci-fi ambient of “Completion V3,” and Aerotropolis also takes an epic turn when buckshot claps and ominous organ chords surface during “Mega Church.” Still, the album, for the most part, opts for joy over portent. An undeniable ‘80s vibe also infuses Ikonika's sound, in large part due to the chunky drum machine beats and old-school synth sounds she favours—so much so that it wouldn't be hard to imagine the vignette “Practice Beats” as having been actually produced during the decade. Don't label her music as retrograde, though: while it might draw from the past for its instrument sounds, it's executed with a spirit, exuberance, and affection that never goes out of style.

July 2013