Friends In Far Away Places is the debut long player from cinematic groove merchants Laroca. A heady mix of lush electronica, world flavours and muted beats, this impressive debut is the result of a sonic adventure embarked upon by the Laroca duo, known to their respective mothers as Rob and Olly.
Drawn together from Oxford and London through a mutual friend and a shared love of My Bloody Valentine-esque musical noise Rob Pollard and Olly Wakeford began their adventure experimenting with 4-track recorders and creaking eighties’ synths. Although the early Laroca sound was mainly electronic it wasn’t long before they were longing to introduce more live instruments. Both had played music from an early age; Rob, the guitar and bass, and former Royal College of Music student, Olly, had played keyboards, bass and, one of Laroca’s trademark sounds, the flute, ever since his arms were long enough. For Friends In Far Away Places, Laroca went on to enlist the additional musical talents of vocalist Anna Snowman (Fiona Renshaw), MC Mantmast (Grooverider, Friction), Ricky Fabulous (Belleruche) on guitars, Matt Derbyshire (The Second Whorl) on Rhodes and Mr Smiff (Breakin Even) on congas.
Admirers of Bonobo, Quantic, Lemon Jelly, Fragile State, Thievery Corporation and the Catskills label, LAROCA’s sound is reassuringly chilled yet funky, symphonic, soulful, layered and exotic; drawing on world influences ranging from Sufi and Afro-Beat to flamenco and Eastern European gypsy. Laroca’s live show is equally as inspired, enhanced by the video wizardry of VJ Myogenic (Ulrich Schnauss, Gilles Peterson) they were invited to play at the Big Chill Festival long before they even signed to Just Music.
For Friends In Far Away Places is inviting and compelling; highlights include GENERALIFE, a Sufi-tinged filmic affair, Laroca’s signature tune Looking Like Lions and the hypnotic PLAGE LODO, inspired by a trip to Corsica, with its laidback, muted beats and soothing flute which can’t help but conjure up images of pure white beaches and Super8 holiday films. The album is preceded by a download only EP, EP1, on 20 March which features LOOKING LIKE LIONS, LA GLORIETA (which has just been picked up by a major US TV show) & THEME FLAMBOYANT. EP1 is available to buy from all good download stores including iTunes, Tunetribe, Napster, Karma Download, HMV Digital, Virgin Digital and www.justmusic.co.uk.
'RECORD OF THE WEEK: A wonderful and unique album.'
'A strong debut.'
?Beautifully chilled soundscapes-meets-dabblings in jazz. But it?s more than that. Laroca draw from just about every musical genre going, and seamlessly in the process. They?ve treated the different musical styles and cultures with respect beyond their years and have created a sound all of their own. And it reels you in. Yeah, it?s fair to say I adore this album. ?Friends In Far Away Places? is as good a debut as I have heard for some time. There?s something for everyone; it REALLY is a magical piece of work.?
BLUES & SOUL
?Chilled, groove-laden, cinematic, yet accessible, world music without being 'beardy', like a more considered Basement Jaxx without the frantic style-dropping.?
'Looking Like Lions is the sort of track that iPods were made for?a mightily impressive collection of beats, Eastern-influenced vocals and flutes that effectively encapsulate a chilled out cinematic sound. Laidback, muted beats and soothing flute that might make Air jealous...the album delivers some real highs. It?s certainly worthy of plenty of attention.'
?A beautiful creation which fuses ambient moments of chilled out, down tempo pleasure, whilst not ignoring a backbone of layered electronica. We are taken on a musical journey that liberates from genre and classification.?
IN THE MIX
?A smooth collage of downtempo jazz-pop with a smidgeon of MCing, the occasional female soul vocal and an ambience of slick professionalism.?
?A timely winter warmer. It feels like a 50-minute holiday; a tranquil saunter through sunnier climes that provides a much needed respite from the reality of grey skies and cold hands.?
?Just listened to the new album by LAROCA on Just Music. Excellent tuneage and definitely one for the box tonight?
'At first I thought the title and artwork of this new chillout release on Just Music was a rip-off of Ulrich Schnauss Far Away Trains Passing By, but not so. Laroca, a fusion of ideas by Rob Pollard and Olly Wakeford is a little more organic than Schnauss?s world, although it too shares a strongly melodic, electronic core.
Friends In Far Away Places is littered with eastern vocal chants, and traditional instruments, such as congas, guitar, bass and particularly flute. When mixed in with Laroca?s layered break beats and swathes of orchestral synths, you have what can be described as a world music album for electronic enthusiasts. The album opens with La Douleur Exquise, a short instrumental that holds the same chillout sway you might find with Nightmares On Wax. Looking Like Lions then explodes into life with an amalgam of instruments, led by mesmerising lead flute and Arabian sounding female vocal wails. The track builds a muddy wall of percussion of beats towards its succulent crescendo.
Friends In Far Away Places then trudges through an amicable line-up of refreshingly downtempo numbers - again, often led by flute sounds amidst a variety of world beats, utilising Afro-American, Flamenco and Eastern European flavoured loops. Tracks such as What?s Odd About Chess, featuring rap from Mantmast display a willingness to digress into deeper funk territories, whilst the following Latin ventures into more soulful climbs ? courtesy of Anna Snowman?s luscious vocal.
At this point, the album has perhaps veered away from its world influences, but following another Rhodes-inspired jaunt on The Daa Daa Shuffle, the rest of Friends In Far Away Places falls back into place on its closing tracks ? of which Pastoral?s gentle calm is particularly blissful, with its complicated weave of jazz-inflected flute, keyboards and muted beats.
All in all, this is a fine debut release with plenty of memorable tracks that display a variety of uplifting moods and quality musicianship all round. 8/10 ? very good.'
'According to the press release, this is a "heady mix of lush electronica, world flavours and muted beats" and is a "sonic adventure embarked upon by the Laroca duo, known to their respective mothers as Rob and Olly". Sounds interesting...
T: It paints some fascinating landscapes and you are swept away to another world by the music here. It's a bit like watching a Michael Palin "Around the World" documentary whilst being pumped full of narcotics. A trip within a trip, if you like. It most definitely conjures up thoughts of scorching sunshine, endless deserts and women carrying baskets on their heads. Ultimately it's an enchanting album that you can't help but like. Splendid stuff. Reminds me a little of Azymuth actually.
N: As you've said, a kind of "New World" influenced trip, veering towards Trans-Global Underworld at times, whilst at other setting the scene for a Casablanca tinged affair. Would you agree?
T: I can see what you mean, but frankly my dear, I don't give a damn. Oh hang on...wrong film...let's just play it again Sam.
N: One of the most misquoted lines in movie history... 8/10'
'Friends In Far Away Places the debut album of the new group Laroca has everything necessary to send you on a journey out of your normal day to day routine and into exotic lands you may have only dreamed of going. Rob Pollard and Olly Wakeford have successfully produced a lush chilled cinematic sound that combines world rhthyms with funky urban beats of today.
After listening to the entire CD one word comes to mind, ?Enigmatic!?
I was a little apprehensive while listening to the cinematic opener - wondering "where are you guys taking me?". However, as the album unfolded the title takes on its true meaning "Friends in Far Away Places". Nothing to be afraid of here. In fact a certain warm familiarity arises, especially with the recognizable loop on "Latin". But even this song possess a cool freshness that is felt throughout this chilled-cinematic journey. And while ?Plage Lodo? almost put me in a coma-like state, Laroca quickly changes course and takes you on a side trip down an urban side street with ?Whats Odd about Chess? perhaps the funkiest of all the tracks. Yet its this variation that keeps the CD interesting all the way through. Each track provides a certain amount of deep and emotion as well as a nice variety that elevates this as more than just background music.
With excellent production values a clear grasp of their limitations, Laroca has laid a great foundation for future works.'
'There are some essentials for every summer. A healthy supply of suncream; a ticket for a topnotch festival or two; and a new LP of warm, rolling chill-out sounds - awash with slinky basslines, Rhodes piano and epic cinematic splendour. Five years after the ?Now That?s What I Call Ministry of Chill Out? mix phenomenon threatened to kill the genre altogether, the classic chill-out formula still seems to dish up a classic album or two each summer, as soon as the blossom hits the trees. The Egg, Fragile State and Bonobo have all taken their turns at raising the flag in recent years, and in 2006 it is Laroca who look set to hold it highest.
Friends in Faraway Places - the debut album from Rob Pollard, Olly Wakeford and friends - has been awaited with some anticipation around Planet Big Chill, and it doesn?t disappoint. Laroca have found a natural home for their sound at Just Music where they stand - or rather sway in a louche manner - alongside rising ambient megastar Jon Hopkins and a cocktail menu of beach-friendly sunset groovers.
After a teasing instrumental intro, Friends in Faraway Places bursts into life with 'Looking Like Lions', a hugely enjoyable and (almost) funky adventure soundtrack carried by Olly?s flute and an unmissable joie de vivre. I love the left-turn from there into 'Generalife', led by a slice of reinvented library music sounds worthy of King of Woolworths himself.
With occasional forays into vocals sung or rapped by MC Mantmast and Anna Snowman, the album slides beautifully on a lazy groove from thereon in. The voices on 'Latin' and 'Daa Daa Shuffle' in particular demand attention and the instrumental subtleties and swells of 'Sinbad' or the mariachi-tinged 'Flamboyant' are effective.
Lie back and pour yourself a long one - Laroca have just made your summer.' Enchanted Gordon