by Greg Docter
Onra – Long Distance
Not too often does an album title contradict the content of the CD, but Long Distance by French producer Onra does just that. His first breakthrough in the game was the 2007 release Chinoiseries which was inspired by Onra’s trip to Vietnam. On Chinoiseries Onra used Chinese and Vietnamese record samples, as well as J Dilla’s musical influence, to add a very unique piece of work to hip-hop. Since then he has put together five more full-length albums, including his most recent, Long Distance. The title, taken for face value, exudes a feeling of perpetual excellence, but after listening to Long Distance it seems as if Onra settled for continuous mediocrity.
Long Distance begins with an intro that is reminiscent of the intro found on Common’s Finding Forever, and is a strong start to the album. Soaked in synths and chimes, this one minute long introduction is a celestial and enticing way to begin the CD and despite its simplicity, sets the bar high for the rest of Long Distance. Disappointingly, Onra never again finds that key combination that makes the intro so enjoyable, and instead uses the rest of Long Distance to explore a fusion of electro, and 90s hip-hop and r&b to guide the rest of his beat making. The result of this combination are songs that start out strong due to this unique and throwback junction of sounds, but quickly lose their luster. Whereas the upper echelon of beat makers craft songs that are so infectious that repetition is welcomed, Onra’s work on Long Distance is repetitious to the point of not listening to the album a second time. The song “Tape This” is representative of this fault. It begins with 80s-esque keyboards, synths, and hand-claps, creating an ambiance that sends you right back to that era (whether you were alive then or not). The downfall of “Tape This”, and Long Distance as whole, is that the beat never evolves to a point where demands a second listen; it simply gets redundant.
Despite monotony of Long Distance, Onra was able to craft a few tracks that show he does have the ability to be a highly regarded producer. On “L.I.A.B.” Onra puts together a track chock full of synthesizers, but does so in a way that strengthens the track, and uses a well-cut sample to push this song to be one of the best of the album. “Don’t Stop” follows a similar formula and uses a sample expertly cut, allowing Onra’s true abilities to shine through, although not consistently enough of Long Distance to make it a memorable release.
Onra’s Long Distance is missing some key ingredients that would make his beats desirable to listen to more than once. Its tough to specify what is missing, but after listening to the contemporary greats such as Madlib and J Dilla, it is obvious that Onra still has a long distance to go until he reaches the pedestal those two are on. Onra needs to figure out how to push his sound from interesting to innovative in order to be a force in the hip-hop and electro genres. Even though Long Distance fails to go the distance towards being a ground breaking CD, it does gives listeners a glimpse into a sect of hip-hop in France and a taste of an up-and-coming producer’s work.