The Parisian producer paves the way for the erotic robotic
Earlier this summer Onra dropped his strongest effort, Long Distance (All City), which he considers his full-length debut. The record, a thoroughly futuristic approach to early 1980s boogie funk, helped propel the wave of recent revivalism for the genre heralded by Los Angeles' Dam-Funk. Locally, the Sweater Funk crew has steadily unearthed overlooked boogie jams, playing original vinyl of low rider grooves and synthesized soul in the basement of Chinatown's Li-Po Lounge every Sunday night. Somehow the cheese factor of these sounds has retained its original funky odor, and even rampant irony has given way to wholehearted appreciation for lustful forays into buoyant bass and lush melodies.
But Onra's approach to the funk gathers inspiration from Notorious B.I.G.'s Mtume-based "Juicy" and Foxy Brown's "Gotta Get You Home" more than the analog-minded heritage channeled by Dam-Funk. "There were so many songs in the '90s that sampled '80s funk and modern soul," Onra says. "That's the feeling I wanted to have on my album. I had to find a way of recreating their feeling, but with a fresher touch." Long Distance manages that tension well, navigating nostalgia for Roland chord progressions and vintage drum machines with a finger on the pulse for the spacey beat-futurism cultivated by the likes of Flying Lotus and Hudson Mohawke.
The rolling bass lines of "Comet" and "Rock On" pick up where Parliament's mothership landed 30 years ago — but the rusty funk machine scrapped together during the days of the cold war gets a bit of a facelift on Long Distance. The swerving slap bounce is reconfigured into a fragmented narrative of sensual ideas and indulgent desire outlined in chalk. On "High Hopes" and the title track, R&B crooners Reggie B and Olivier Daysoul wax seductive over woozy beats that sound like Dilla flipped the Prelude vaults.
Voices are distorted and guzzled through technological mediation: "Oper8tor" receives the vocoder-inflected Zapp treatment and "Girl" traces a love interest's absent-minded confession over a fuzzy telephone voice message. Onra also ventures into uncharted intergalactic territory. "Wonderland" cruises on ecstatic altitudes higher than the intoxication of house, while "WheeOut," featuring Buddy Sativa wilding out on synth chords, discovers the sticky underbelly of electro.
A general theme of travel, and the insatiable desires that emerge from such trips through space and time, saturates the warm sonic textures of Long Distance. Onra doesn't care to divulge too much on the topic: "I have been traveling a lot these past few years," he says. "This album has been inspired by my own personal experiences, by a few long distance relationships I had ... I think it's a very inspiring subject."