Free, the debut album from Venezuela’s DJ Afro (José Luis Pardo), is a grim reminder of how much electronica flirts with digital Cheez Whiz. On Free, DJ Afro encounters the same problem. It’s not that he’s not a force on the console. The production is Timbaland-sleek and loaded with studio flourishes. Well-recorded live instrumentation features heavily and DJ Afro is fearless when it comes to genre-melding. He also boasts two decades in music, having played guitar and written songs for the Grammy-nominated and Latin Grammy-winning Los Amigos Invisibles, a disco, funk, and acid jazz band from the same country originally signed by David Byrne’s Luaka Bop.
But the house beats on “Quédate a dormir” and “Recuerdos” sound un-ironically 1989. Meanwhile, the latter track features unbearably hokey Spanglish rapping and singing from Pedro Pérez. The solid downtempo title song evokes Air, mawkish vocals notwithstanding (or perhaps helping). And the quality opening suite of “Asheville” and “Este bolero es para ti” recall the jet-set bossa nova of Mo’ Horizons or Nicola Conte. Ironic or not, “Rata” is a respectable cumbiatrónica, but DJ Afro just doesn’t maintain the quality throughout the set, condemning any song on this disc to the fate of becoming an MF Doom beat someday.