Theo Parrish – 71st & Exhange Used To Be

A few weeks ago, whilst having a drink with a friend, we got onto the subject of Will Bankhead’s Trilogy Tapes label and the sheer amount of quality music it has put out over the last year or two. I was excited about the imminent debut of House legend Theo Parrish on the label, but, also slightly wary of it. Theo Parrish, I admitted to my friend, was an artist I often respected more than enjoyed. Parrish’s propensity for drawing on a huge store of influences – many of which, in other hands, have had a difficult relationship with electronic music – coupled to the sort of musical imagination that is usually as far removed from the world of gurning dance-floor monkeys as is possible to find, often renders his output slightly oblique, even compared to the greats from his adopted home city of Detroits own recent past. My friend nodded, saying he understood and then added ‘yeah, but the thing is, the rest of the time he just nails it.’

And nails it he does on this, a three way release between Trilogy Tapes, Parrish’s own Sound Signature label and, err, Palace Skateboards, that sees Parrish finding the sweet middle ground between soulful, jazzy exploration and stomping funk.

Title track ’71st Exchange & and Used To Be’ drifts in on a raft of bouncing toms and minor chords before an enormous muscle car of a bass, and some frankly astonishing drum work lifts you up and propels you into a world that is equal parts 1970s brain-trip and cine-cam footage of drowsy summer streets. The whole thing drips with light.

On the B side, ‘Blueskies Surprise’ meanders into the dusk with an air of wistfulness that hangs on some gorgeous strings and a simple riff that keeps the thing bubbling over. Less upfront than the A side, it retains ’71sts…..’ warmth whist adding some melancholy to the proceedings – a mood so often overlooked in favour of exuberance in House music.

The closer, ‘Petey Wheetfeet’, verges into slightly more experimental territory with a vibe not dissimilar to a funk backing band having a musical duel with a jazz trio. The tune grooves into life before gliding off into the distance and makes it back just in time for the synths to drag the stomping kick drum and burps of analogue bass back onto the straight and narrow.

’71st & Exchange..’ is dance music in a very pure form. It wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve without ever letting them overwhelm the disarmingly delicate tones, fills and frills that have become Parrish’s trademarks. It is both subtle and direct and is evidence of a musician (rather than a ‘producer’) at the top of his game. It’s the sort of record that allows you to understand what Opal Tapes founder Stephen Bishop meant when he said he makes the music he does because he realized he was never going to be Theo Parrish. It’s an undoubted sadness that so few people in electronic music are, but at least we have one, and we should celebrate that while we have to opportunity to do so.