he story goes that Barcelona DJ Gabriel Berlanga split with his band The Light in early 2005 and, taking the pieces that he had been working on set out to make a solo record. After scrapping things, reworking others, and putting it all together, voilá! Despacio. All of this should come as a surprise, though, to those who know Undo as that aforementioned Barcelona DJ, a regular at the cities Loft and the co-owner of the respected Factor City label. Rock music has only peripherally figured into the label’s sound. Sure, the shimmering shoegaze of “Happy Monday” featured them as their main melodic device, but most thought it was affectation: a means to an end.
Not so, says Berlanga’s bio, which offers up the same old DJ story: a youngster raised on music lessons with traditional instruments, struck dumb by a moment of electronic brilliance and an urge to find out how those sounds were created. But on Despacio, both interests undergo a delicate balancing act and oftentimes, sadly, it’s not to the album’s betterment.
You could praise Despacio for its variety quite easily. Berlanga effortlessly changes gears throughout, throwing down mesmerizing rock tracks like “Running Away” and “Remember” and dance numbers like “Bounce Your Body, Gabi” and “Small Revolutions.” He even splits the difference perfectly on album highlight “No Matter Where You Are, We Are Together,” which at four-and-a-half minutes ends far too soon. But too often here when the difference is split, the results are less than inspiring.
“Atrau-Me,” for instance, is a six-minute throwaway that can’t decide between its house beat and the quavering guitars in the background. Ultimately, it works as neither, occupying a middle ground that’s frequently known as “middling.” “Libelula” doesn’t have an identity crisis. It suffers from a far more insidious issue: the song simply isn’t very interesting. The song is Undo-by-the-numbers and, if it wasn’t clear that Berlanga had spent a long time constructing this album, you’d think it was tossed off at the last minute.
Maybe Undo just misses his partner at The Loft here, Vicknoise. His reworking of their classic “Happy Monday” pales in comparison to the original. On the “September Mix” of the song, the bass takes over, playing slow and loosely under the strange belief that listeners came to My Bloody Valentine to hear Debbie Googe’s contributions. Or maybe Undo is just pushing for a larger audience than the dance music fans that snap up Factor City 12”’s on name alone. Make no mistake: Despacio is a singular album worth hearing, but it’s also a major disappointment.