Six years is a considerable amount of time for any artist to disappear, but a break that long in the fleeting world of club-friendly lounge music is something closer to self-imposed exile; making another album after such a hiatus is less an endeavor in creative fulfillment than in coming out of retirement. Supreme Beings of Leisure’s latest, 11i, finds the group picking up almost exactly where they left off with 2002’s Divine Operating System; shockingly, this is not the recipe for electronic-music suicide that it should be.
As early as their near-classic 2000 self-titled debut, the Beings have always relied as much on live instrumentation as they have on producer/programmer Ramin Sakirai’s quasi-breakbeat approach, and this in turn always made their music closer to live rock than it did to home studio techno; in a way, they were always more of a pop band with techno tendencies, rather than the other way around. Having split up the regular band in 2000, the Beings have since relied on guest musicians to flesh out their sound, and for 11i have brought in quite a roster of heavy hitters, chief among then violinist Lili Hayden and former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman.
The result is the totally logical extension of the Being’s previous two efforts, with vocalist Geri Soriano-Lightwood’s voice flexing at every turn of Sakirai’s tracks, themselves a healthy mix of electro-informed rock and old-school downtempo. While Hayden and Friedman are given their moments to shine (“Angelhead” and “Oneness,” respectively), and while Sakirai’s touch informs nearly every second of the album, Soriano-Lightwood is clearly the star here. Some of the Beings’ lyrics can border on the ridiculous, but Soriano-Lightwood’s conviction never wavers and her delivery never fails to impress, even when what she’s singing about may make the listener cringe.
Lyrics and performance aside, the group’s strong suit has always been in atmosphere and mood, and in those departments the Beings shine as usual. Trading much of the globetrotting and spy-movie swagger of their first two full-lengths, 11i instead works on creating something more reflective and meditative, and for the most part succeeds. The orchestration is gorgeous as always, and Sakirai’s production makes the whole experience smooth like a fine cocktail with Soriano-Lightwood onboard as the ambassador of late-night glamour and sophistication.
11i may not end up being the great chillout record of 2008, but it’s impossible to imagine leaving the Beings out of the discussion when it comes time to have it. Classic? Probably not. The new sound of cool? For a little while, absolutely.