One could be forgiven for at first believing there’s little about Stubborn Heart that sets this pair apart from their London EDM contemporaries. There are aching vocals from Luca Santucci, electronic backings from Ben Fitzgerald, and a sleek noir sensibility shared with James Blake, Jessie Ware and the xx. Eschewing sunlight, the duo favors shadows no longer radical.
Their distinction is a frisson that aligns them with a highly specific offshoot of ’80s Brit-soul — the smooth-but-tortured AOR of the Blue Nile, Black and Danny Wilson. Like those acts, Santucci suggests he’s in the throes of an existential romantic crisis. He croons and he cries and he sighs with preternatural ease while Fitzgerald surrounds him in synthetic backings utterly devoid of sweat. Opening cut “Penetrate” bubbles like a percolating coffee pot. “Better Than This” gets funky with phony tubular bells. “It’s Not That Easy” covers a rare ’60s Southern Soul obscurity, and it’s a testimony to the absoluteness of Santucci and Fitzgerald’s aesthetic that it sounds no different from their own compositions. Stubborn Heart are so finicky with their soul that they head 360 degrees away from it, which of course returns smack dab on top of it as well.