Balearic, chillout, cosmic, space disco: For those unfamiliar with the dozens of nuanced distinctions in the world of dance music, specific terms like these will mean a lot more now than when Aeroplane first graced the pages of this website in January 2009. The explosion of expansive, happy house sounds is in evidence everywhere from Lindstrøm and his various collaborators to The Juan MacLean’s literally taken 12” to the birth of an entire genre in chillwave. All of these things have been happening while Stephen Fasano and Vito De Luca have been busy crafting their debut full-length, trends ebbing and flowing around them while they let slip a single here or a handful of remixes there. It’s clear they didn’t want to rush the moment just because it was built for them.
Here we are then, a year and a half later, and We Can’t Fly finally drops to a decidedly muted reception. If you’ve read any reviews of this record (and even those are limited or buried down the order of a daily review line-up), there is an uneasy air of swiftly snowballing groupthink. People seem to feel either massively let down or they don’t even acknowledge it exists. Even their website agrees that this album “arrives with sky-high hopes,” leaving you to put it together that expectations haven’t been met.
The underlying question I have for naysayers is, what did you think was going to happen? First of all, De Luca is carrying on solo now, following an amicable split with Fasano. This might be an Aeroplane album in name, and longtime producer Bertrand Burgalat is still present, but taking the longtime DJ out of the creative process leaves the record shop owner to indulge himself. That’s pivotal: De Luca loves records, recordings; Fasano brought a love of the live feel with him. Listening to the re-recorded version of their breakout hit “Caramellas” is listening to the eradication of a certain looseness that only comes with having dealt in imperfect environments for years.
Relatedly, De Luca displays a clear love for cheesy 1970s rock in addition to the obvious disco signifiers. “Superstar” was “Mr. Blue Sky” in a previous life, “The Point of No Return” and “Fish in the Sky” could have been by Asia, and Jonathan Jeremiah’s heavy-handedness on “Good Riddance” is a deadringer for Nick Cave. These are all catchy songs taken out of context, but played alongside more “traditional” Aeroplane disco tracks, they occasionally feel estranged from one another. If there’s a glaring flaw with We Can’t Fly, it’s that this album just isn’t paced correctly. “Mountains of Moscow” feels like it should be at the back of the album, not the very front; meanwhile, “We Can’t Fly” behind it feels like the proper opener. “Good Riddance” is jaunty but dissimilar from the songs that buffer it, making it feel even more out of place than it already is. None of the five guest vocalists appear until “I Don’t Feel,” almost halfway through the album.
This review isn’t here to serve the function of being deliberately contrarian and I’m not here to tell you this is the best thing De Luca’s ever done (Have you played that Friendly Fires remix of “Paris” lately?), but I don’t feel particularly let down by an album that’s no worse or scattershot than, say, Trentemøller’s Into the Great Wide Yonder earlier this year. Both of these records feel like spiritual kin in a way, albums by producers who enjoy a wide variety of sounds genre-wise, but who retain certain minor production or instrumental characteristics that will frustrate dance connoisseurs and pop-loving audiences alike. The difference is that Trentemøller has been working alone for years, while De Luca is just getting his solo studio career started. You can hear him trying to sort out the differences between Aeroplane’s past and its/his future without resolving them yet. Appropriately, if you often find yourself unwittingly listening to pop hits from 1975-1985, you are the target demographic of We Can’t Fly.