It seems almost contradictory to describe Prominence as finicky. John Peña’s sophomore album as Heavenly Beat is, after all, light, beachy stuff, its relaxed pace driven principally by acoustic guitar plucking and easygoing synth-pop percussion. But the word can certainly be applied to the former Beach Fossils bassist’s meticulous production, a note-by-note construction of the album’s breezy electro-ballads in which the attention to details both important and trivial seems almost microscopic. Beneath all the skittering flourishes, Prominence is in many ways a conventional pop album, but its aesthetics remain almost obsessively imagined, a fully realized musical fantasy whose creator prizes above all the escapist appeal of a summertime fling.
In fact, the elative rush of new, angst-free love appears to serve as Prominence’s primary muse. As if gently courting his listeners, Peña’s voice barely rises above a whisper during the album’s half-hour runtime, cooing sweet nothings along to airy, slightly surf-ish pop ditties. The throbbing “Complete” employs a chorus of steel drums and crisp hi-hats to support Peña’s honeyed overtures; both “Familiar” and “Honest” do the same with a gently hammering combination of mallet synths, bells, and harmonica-like sounds.
But while Prominence is a quiet, sentimental album, even slightly aloof in a way that likens it to chillwave-minded bedroom music (indeed, Peña wrote and recorded the tracks at home), there’s also a warm, open quality to the arrangements that invoke, of all things, the Mediterranean-draped grandeur of that old instrumental colossus, Yanni Live at the Acropolis. Prominence succeeds most of all through its sweet, unassuming charm, which flows directly from Peña’s own sense of self-effacing confidence. The benign daydream quality of tracks like “Lengths” and “Stable” prove that the Brooklyn native isn’t afraid to crib from easily mocked and oft-maligned genres such as easy listening, and as he delivers track after track of what can accurately be described as tropical hotel-lobby music, it’s clear that the album is an artist’s quiet indulgence in his own guilty pleasures, albeit with enough tact and care to make it a guilty pleasure in its own right.