One might be tempted to begin this review by whipping out the old ‘this producer’s been on a bit of a roll for the past few years’ cliché, but really, Ilija Rudman’s been rolling along for the better part of two decades. Along the way, the Croatian studio whiz has built up a lengthy discography that takes in disco, house, balearica, cosmic and soundtrack-ish material, electro and synthpop, among other things, and he’s proved to be damned adept at all of it. (In a 2019 interview, he listed a few of his influences — ‘Conny Plank, Tee Scott, Gino Soccio, Rick Rubin, Quincy, Larry, Prince, Morgan Geist’ — which might give you some idea of his across-the-board tastes.) Rudman’s latest, ‘Sparks,’ doesn’t fit neatly into any of the above categories, or any other that we can think of, and is all the better for it.
If you were forced to reduce ‘Sparks’ down to a one-word description, you might opt for ‘brooding’ — it’s one of the moodier records Rudman’s put out in a while, flush with a foreboding aura that sucks you right in. Underpinned by a rubbery bassline and a low-end foghorn synth, with a nice hi-hat pattern perched on top, a parade of elements — string pads, anxious stabs, some cavernous grand-piano chords, even a synth-horn section at a couple of points — cascade in and out of the mix. It’s a bit dark, a touch dense, and also quite beautiful.
Project Paradise’s version is pretty much the polar opposite, vibe-wise: It positively revels in the sparking light of a glitterball, brimming with fluttering synths, bongos galore and a squelched-up disco bassline, not to mention the addition of impassioned belting of Terri Shaltiel, going on about — you guessed it — sparks. (They’re within her heart, in case you were wondering.) And then there’s Dennis Kane’s pulsating take, which has some of the windswept feel of his past work with Darshan Jesrani under the Siren moniker. Stripping down and rearranging the track elements, adding some syncopated chicka-whacka guitar action (a bit reminiscent of the theme from a certain private-dick flick from the ’70s), some rat-a-tat snares and plenty of echo, it feels like a mini-epic, one that undoubtedly would sound absolutely stupendous over a big sound system. But a decent set of headphones does the trick as well, we’re happy to report.