With the house renaissance now in full swing, Deniz Kurtel does deserve a bit of credit for attempting to go against the grain on her sophomore LP, delivering a collection of songs that bares little comparison to her 2011 debut, Music Watching Over Me (which saw a release on the monster Crosstown Rebels imprint). To that point, The Way We Live offers up little in the way of dense, rolling tunes, instead operating in the electro-tinged, soul-laden regions of funkified electronic music. The resulting 12 tracks dip into surprisingly slower tempos, frequently landing in hip-hop BPM ranges, as Kurtel and her cast of collaborators weave together strange pieces of house-indebted fare. Unfortunately, amidst the album's constant push and pull between art and pop and its attempt to forge new sonic ground, Kurtel seems to have forgotten an essential part of music production—to make it interesting.
Simply put, there's nothing exciting about The Way We Live. The album is unwaveringly entrenched in a dreamy, moody atmosphere as the bass and drum patterns favor mellow grooves while the chords and melodies are allowed to genially float along. Hardly does a sense of surprise or urgency ever appear on the album, and when one does, it usually fails to serve the song—R.Kelly's spoken intro to "Step in the Name of Love" is warped to fit with the LP's title track (eliciting little more than a laugh) and, later on, the tired breakbeat and bizarre sound palette of "Hypocrite" make for a disappointing listen. Obviously, albums don't need to jump out at the listener to be worthwhile, but the world Kurtel presents on this record is not only withheld but, for the most part, also fails to be inviting (both sonically and musically speaking), leaving us to ponder the slow, tame productions from a distance. It seems strange that although Kurtel is keen to rethink the concept of club music on this LP, she does not attempt to seek new ground outside of the club-production aesthetic. Indeed, each track is presented as if it were squarely aimed at the dancefloor, with each element precisely shaped and placed into a shiny, polished package. One would hope that exploring slower tempos and various twists on the accepted house formula would result in a few new textures or a more adventuresome sound palette, but The Way We Live offers no such thing, rendering its tunes a bit plain and lifeless as a result.
Despite these missteps, Kurtel does manage to dig up a handful of good ideas here, landing on a few tracks that might even work in DJ sets, at least when removed from their context within the album. Most of these promising moments appear towards the end of the LP, particularly the somber and spacious "Don't Wanna Be," which features Art Department's Kenny Glasgow, along with "Wake Me Up" and "Blackness," a pair of similiarly luscious tunes cooked up with the assistance of both PillowTalk and Thugfucker. However, these are the only collaborations that seem to really work, an unfortunate fact when you consider that every song on The Way We Live features a guest producer—most prominently Wolf + Lamb's Gadi Mizrahi, in addition to names like Tanner Ross and Soul Clap.
Perhaps an overindulgence in the collaborative spirit is what distilled Kurtel's admirable aims into such bland results, although an exact accounting of who is responsible for the blunders heard here is unclear. In the end, The Way We Live seems more like a misguided experiment than an outright offense. That said, it is the second underwhelming LP (along with Soul Clap's E-Funk) to arise from the Wolf + Lamb camp this year. For whatever reason, the crew's artists have been compelled to overreach when operating within the full-length format, and they continue to fall considerably short of expectations.