The San Francisco underground electronic act Soulstice brings together the soul-saturated house production talents of Andy Caldwell and Gabe Rene (the two have been scoring some big dance-floor hits on their own lately -- Caldwell, with his work for Om and Rene, for Naked Recordings, under the alias Aquanote) and adds vocalist Gina Rene and turntablist Mei Lwun Yee. The quartet has scored a few minor hits in its own right, with "Lovely" and "Tenderly," both released on Om Records in the last year or two. But Illusion, the group's full-length debut, lacks the innovation and focus that would make a truly compelling album. It's not that the necessary elements aren't there; it's just that they don't come together.
Illusion is noticeably unfettered from the sort of repetitive rhythmic loyalty that would pigeonhole it in any one dance subgenre, and that makes for a collection of songs with the potential to pull in audiences of all varieties. But the wide array of rhythmic interplay on Illusion is more often ruthlessly hammered out than it is subtly nuanced, making it difficult to seriously consider the group's bid as innovators of futuristic electronic soul music. On a tune such as "Wind," the booming Miami bass that plugs away under Gina Rene's vocals takes away more than it adds to the overall mood of the song (and Yee's jagged scratching doesn't help matters). Rene's limited vocal ability really can't carry the album, either, and it's hard to avoid thinking of her as a pale imitation of Sade. It certainly wouldn't hurt Caldwell and Rene to take note of the delicacy found on records like Sade's Love Deluxe. While it might not take them into platinum-selling territory, it would make for a more soothing listen.