Deniz Kurtel: The Way We Live
Wolf + Lamb

I had the highest of hopes for Deniz Kurtel's second album on the strength of her debut album Music Watching Over Me, one of last year's standouts. Unfortunately, the earlier one is the far better of the two, with the latest a modestly satisfying affair that's hard to get too excited about. Kurtel's approached the project as a bit of a family affair by bringing in a small assortment of guest vocalists and producers such as Tanner Ross and San Francisco's Pillow Talk to help shape the tracks (she labels the collective the Marcy All Stars, named after the Marcy Hotel in Williamsburg, New York where she landed after moving from her Turkey home). Her major contributor is Gadi Mizrahi (the Lamb in Wolf + Lamb), who dips his fingers into five of the album's dozen tracks.

She deserves credit for attempting something new rather than repeating the debut album's formula, and the idea of a sultry, late-night set of electronic slow jams heavy on synthetic atmosphere and vocal turns is certainly acceptable enough. But sometimes the material sounds downright lethargic: the beat pattern is so anemic during the ominous “The Way We Live” it drags down an otherwise credible slice of downtempo hip-hop, while “Thunder Clap” (with Voices Of Black) lacks the high energy that an exercise in Prince-styled funk demands. One track that does pick up the pace is the closing “The Beat Drops” (with Tanner Ross and featuring Jules Born) but by then it's too little too late. Elsewhere, the Milli Vanilli association can't help but taint “You Know It's True,” though Kurtel does at least render the tune listenable. In terms of content, the instrumental “Love Triangle” (with Wolf + Lamb) is so slight as to be space-filler, and “Hypocrite” promises much but fails to deliver, opting instead to ride out a listless groove without developing into anything terribly dramatic.

The Way We Live isn't completely bereft of memorable moments. There's a nice Art Department-like vibe that emerges during “Don't Wanna Be” due to the vocal involvement of Art Department member Kenny Glasgow, and “Wake Me Up” (with Pillowtalk and Thugfucker) is boosted by a suave and nicely soulful vocal turn. “Safe Word,” a smooth soul jam with Soul Clap and featuring Navid Izadi, is also passable, and Michael Franti (The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, Spearhead) adds some decent flow to “Right On.” But one ends up searching for points of recommendation whereas ideally there'd be no shortage to choose from. There's also too little variance in tempo, with a sameness setting in that grows numbing over the course of the album. Ultimately, the album is weakened not so much by its delivery but by compositions that could have used more development, with too many of them overly repetitive pieces lacking in dynamic contrasts of mood and structure.

June 2012