Beings There

Supreme Beings of Leisure: an empire in recline

You'd think a night creature like Geri Soriano-Lightwood would have little time for television. To judge from the suave refinement of Supreme Beings of Leisure, to which her alluring voice adds a sophisticated chanteuseiness, leisure necessitates limousines, haute cuisine, and an endless procession of late-night nightclub action. Ironically, SBL's seductive electro-diva actually received her initial inspiration from Saturday nights spent in front of the TV. On December 9, 1978, the Chicago-area teen witnessed Kate Bush perform "Them Heavy People" and "The Man with the Child in His Eyes" on an Eric Idle-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live.

"[Bush] was the first person who made me have that epiphany moment. I thought, 'That's what I want to do.' It was the first time I saw somebody who I thought was truly an original. It was exciting on many levels for me."

Not just for her -- along with seminal appearances from Devo, Talking Heads, David Bowie, and Klaus Nomi on various late-'70s SNL broadcasts, a legion of music lovers was educated not via radio or record-buying but by television's oft-visionary introduction of New Wave artists.

Leisure ware: Geri Soriano-Lightwood and Ramin Sakurai plot their next cocktail
Leisure ware: Geri Soriano-Lightwood and Ramin Sakurai plot their next cocktail

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"I couldn't even do homework without watching TV," remembers Soriano-Lightwood, now at home in Los Angeles managing a husband, child, and two small businesses.

Supreme Beings of Leisure formed over visual media as well. Seven years ago, while working on an album of her own, she discovered like-minded Kiran Shahani, Ramin Sakurai, and Rick Torres (collectively known as Oversoul 7) creating hip-hop tracks in the next studio, including one up for consideration for inclusion on the soundtrack to the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. Soriano-Lightwood was invited to try her hand as well. She wrote a sultry number called "Nothing Like Tomorrow," recorded it with the band, and, "when we heard that, we knew something cool was going on here," she says. "We thought it would just be a side project, but it got immediate attention."

Moonshine Music heard the demo and quickly signed Shahani (bass), Sakurai (keyboards), Torres (guitar), and Soriano-Lightwood -- who dubbed their new collective Supreme Beings of Leisure. Not until 2000, however, did the group get around to releasing its eponymous debut. The quintessentially tropical, summertime, 21st-century lounge album, Supreme Beings of Leisure's smooth concoction of trip-hop and big, theatrical glitter-beats originated from an amorphous, sunny locale.

Actually, it was Southern California, though reviewers often would refer to the group as a "U.K. combo -- they just automatically assumed that's where we come from," says Soriano-Lightwood. Part of that confusion stems from the unique ethnic makeup of the band, which approximated a Heinz 57 mutt: Soriano-Lightwood brings Latin and kreyol heritage via her Dominican roots. Artsy roots, too: Her mother sang, her father drummed, and her uncle is a well-known painter. One grandfather is the poet laureate of the Dominican Republic, the other a concert violinist. "I grew up on Mozart and merengue," she says.

Sakurai is half-Japanese, half-Iranian; Shahani is Indian, and Torres, Puerto Rican. But the latter two departed the band before the appearance of the second SBL album, Divine Operating System, which was released in September.

"It's the classic 'creative differences' syndrome," explains the singer. "Some of us wanted to do one thing; some of us wanted to do another thing. It was difficult. It's a breakup, but in the end everybody's happy."

Yet Divine Operating System sounds less happy -- though more confident -- than its predecessor. Soriano-Lightwood isn't as elusive and mysterious as tracks like the debut's luscious "Never the Same" made her out to be. If Supreme Beings of Leisure is experimental art-cinema by the pool, DOS is a Hollywood blockbuster under the disco ball. The debut time-stretched elegant atmospheres, string samples, and Soriano-Lightwood's big, brassy fashion-plate-glass voice into a sparkling collection of moments, but its successor is far denser, not as spacious. And disco it is -- Studio 54, Moroder-Summer '70s disco, with Roy Ayres, Diana Ross, and Chic thrown in.

"We were inspired a little bit by the French house movement," Soriano-Lightwood remarks. "They were mainly deconstructing the disco vibe and doing something different with it. We wanted to go back and re-create something that sounded like an unearthed classic."

DOS can't really be called a classic -- rather than resembling the droppings of a real band, it sounds as if it could be folded up, zipped into a carrying case, and quickly stowed in an overhead compartment. But the Pro-Tools Habitrail maze does offer a few rewards, mostly in the form of the 12-piece Love Unlimited Orchestra, a string section named "in homage to both Barry White and John Coltrane.

"We started with the Spanish word for two," Soriano-Lightwood explains, discussing the new album's theme. "To us, DOS is the perfect analogy to the human condition -- what we're here to do and who we are."

Now that Sakurai is solely responsible for the music, it's taken on a simpler yet more frenetic quality, forsaking the downtempo relaxation promised by the debut. Instead, as the romper-stomping opener, "Give Up," makes clear, DOS aims to enhance the nightlife, baby, ramping up the ultra-chic undercurrent. The first single, "Divine," owes as much to Gloria Gaynor as Daft Punk. If not for Soriano-Lightwood's sexy swoops and icy-cool intonations, the album would be indistinguishable from any Mitsubishi car commercial out there. And because SBL is now signed to Palm Pictures, Chris Blackwell's successor to Island Records, DOS comes with an accompanying DVD containing four uninspired video clips and "complimentary leisure visuals" leading up to what amounts to a Palm Pictures catalog ad. The second disc also includes 5.1 Surround mixes for those with the right jet for the set. Smoking jacket sold separately.

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