Review: Social Service – SS1 (Motion Ward)

Although it seems that hazy, worn down house has taken a bit of a battering over the last year or so, it hasn’t entirely vanished altogether. While there has been a recent burst in techno which delights in rave and breakbeat, and a resurgence of house which swaps out introspection for far more hedonistic thrills, there are still one or two acts out there who are sticking to their guns when it comes to more subtle creations.

LA producer Social Service debuts on Motion Ward with the label’s inaugural vinyl release, following on from last year’s tape by Brown Irvin. There is a theme emerging here in terms of Motion Ward’s sound, and it’s one that leans heavily towards a dusky, late night vibe which trades on loose grooves and looser melodies. Social Service’s take on this theme is one that fits in pretty well, but it’s also one that takes it time to get going. Although SS1 does eventually build into some fine, rather frayed, funk, it begins slowly and tips its hat a little too often at the sort of jagged yet muffled shadow play the likes of Patricia have made their own.

I can’t really fault this too much. I’m a pretty big fan of the likes of Patricia or Florian Kupfer myself. But while closely following the surface noise is one thing, you need to have an internal logic all of your own to provide something unique, and although the first tracks of SS1 flow convincingly enough, they lack much on the way of what you would hope are Social Service’s own fingerprints. Starlight is pretty enough, with its glinting, stretched out pads, but it never forms up, always remaining indistinct and unable to fully convince. Chamber explores a similarly charming netherworld, but stretches itself too thin over it’s near ten minute running time, its laconic percussion always threatening to take a breather and let the rest of the tune go on ahead. The biggest problem is that it seems unsure whether it wants to be a far traveling, hypnotic number, or something more concise and cute. In the end it doesn’t really get onboard for either destination.

It takes until the grittier fun of Late Feeling for things to really start coming together. Darker hued, more playful, and aided by the stern jack of a coiled, robotic bass which gives the tune a distinct and essential focus, the record begins to come to life. It’s a great tune; flighty, airy, yet with more groove and heart than both of the first two tunes put together. Stolen brings SS1 out of its shell still further. Bigger, brasher, and with the more cosmic touches relegated to support duties it shifts itself with new-found confidence. It doesn’t really hit the same mark as Late Feeling, but its a rather different beast, eschewing the former’s almost proto-acidic adventures for something more akin to 80s high-concept pop which, at times, even seems to roll the ghost of Talking Heads into the mix. Hex, the closer, is a beatless foray into deep space lunacy, hanging far above the other tunes and constantly morphing, bubbling away with its own sense of delighted strangeness.

It’s a record that works better as it warms to its themes, but even the first two tracks will get plenty of airtime from certain parts of the scene. The truth is, though, that it is in the later trinity of tracks that Social Service finds something to call his own. Perhaps more importantly it is in these tracks, in Late Feeling and Stolen especially, we can glimpse something really worth building upon.

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