PAST LIFE ROMEO – You Look Just Like Me EP

Past Life Romeo is a musical project from Camila Djadja, a multi-faceted musician previously associated with indie pop band Sugar Pills. This isn’t just a mere side project, however. Since ‘You Look Just Like Me’ was created during a period when they were “going through major changes in their life”, the music here sometimes represents a drastic overhaul from Sugar Pills’ accessible indie. It’s not always as easily likeable, but its many layers often represent something that’s more pleasingly complex.

Immediately sharing something very different from Sugar Pills, Camila builds an atmosphere via the self-titled number, where a voice recognisable from their older recordings weaves a mournful melody over a few deep drones and sparingly played piano. It occasionally sounds like a deep cut from Camila’s past spliced with ‘Amnesiac’ era Radiohead, but its uneasy tone suggests there’s more at stake, musically speaking. Then, with the arrival of a sharp rhythm, the darker indie fare transforms into a slice of UK garage, absolutely loaded with glitchy beats. Almost as soon as this finds its feet, Camila fades everything – seemingly prematurely, which leaves the listener feeling unsure as to where where this journey will take them, which is very much in keeping with this EP’s unsettling qualities and its questioning lyrics.

The ringing guitars used as an effective opening bait and a few of the vocal melodies recall a modern indie sound at the time of release, but there’s not always much within the following ‘Sometimes, Most Nights’ that would appeal to fans of that style. Beyond the basic melody, this single branches off into a world of shiny pop, strange electronica and more glitchy beats. That’s not to say it’s at all dance-orientated, either. You’d really struggle to latch onto a natural rhythm here. This is a number which gleefully transcends genre, dropping the listener into a world of busy electronica, which comes underscored by a heavily filtered dual vocal and occasional dream pop tone, making it difficult to pigeonhole. On some listens you might find yourself attracted to the heady rhythm; at other times you might try and find a love for the half disguised vocal, but in terms of broad electro-pop, the results here are never less than interesting. The autotuned vocal can be a little testing for anyone approaching this from anything other than a pop/dance perspective, but the punchy melody of the chorus and soaring counter vocal offer something rather catchy, before the mood drops once more and ‘Saliva’ brings some minimalist sounds to the fore.

‘Saliva’ sounds more like a natural follow on from the opener with its more laid back sound. The filtered vocals glide over a slow, beat-oriented backdrop, but again, it’s not something that would ever inspire dancing. At first, it sounds like another quirky and vaguely disjointed number, but the arrival of the chorus makes all the pieces fit perfectly. Past Life Romeo shares some perfect indietronica where the ghosts of an alternative 80s meet with the mournful elements of the best Death Cab For Cutie, resulting in the EP’s strongest track. Lyrically, themes of personal indecision, a break up where the protagonist is taken to “the worst place” and someone’s on “the first flight home” could make for bleak listening, but PLR’s gift for weaving atmospheric indie pop shines throughout, creating something that feels oddly familiar.

‘Parkingstone’ changes the mood yet again by opening with a wall of dreampop infused guitars, only for them to fall away to reveal a warm bass and another UK garage drum loop. Allowing for a moment to tune in, the 90s inspired, alternative guitars rise through the cracks, and the contrasting moods work brilliantly. Cam, meanwhile, applies another light indie-pop vocal in keeping with ‘Saliva’, and at the point you start to feel as if you’re in a relative safe zone, everything departs to make room for an unexpected flourish of acoustic guitar. Eventually switching back to the main melody, the tune lurking within the busy arrangement makes even more sense, and even by the time the huge electronica drum loops dominate, there’s a feeling that Past Life Romeo’s sometimes chaotic musical blend genuinely works.

‘Drew A Heart <3’, meanwhile, is a little more jarring with its minimalist drone and heavily autotuned vocal. It immediately ventures into a place where the music has almost no human qualities. This, obviously, is an after-effect of the material being concerned with displacement and uncertainty. If you’re able to ride out the more affronting sound, the single blossoms into another interesting piece of indietronica where a flowing pop-ish melody weaves in and out of heavy beats, and a pleasingly catchy chorus rises from within a busy sound. The crossover approach takes a little adjustment time on behalf of the listener, and although this doesn’t provide a hugely different approach to ‘Sometimes, Most Nights’, it appears more obvious that Past Life Romeo knows their way around a strong melody, even if that’s sometimes being masked by a very detached style.

In some ways, Camila should be applauded for approaching this project with some very different ideas in mind. Then again, the glitchy approach this indietronica often takes isn’t always easy listening. Past Life Romeo clearly has none of the commercial interests of many of the scene’s more pop-centric acts, and sometimes that huge desire to be different gets in the way of a potentially great chorus or two. Then again, for the patient ear, ‘You Look Just Like Me’s less commercial aspects might bring people back for repeated listens to unpick the many musical layers long after Past Life Romeo’s more accessible (would be) peers have started to outwear their welcome.

May 2024