Review: John Heckle – Tributes To A Sun God (Bedouin Records)

Regardless of whether Heckle is recording under his Head Front Panel alias, as part of the Phantom Planet Outlaws trio with Mark Forshaw and Binny, or under his own name, he has often managed to bring a fresh perspective to classic feeling house and techno; even his hardest material, under his Head Front Panel guise, subverts expectations by weaving a potent psychedelia into the sound.

Tributes To A Sun God is apparently an homage of sorts to Jamal Moss – AKA Hieroglyphic Being – who has himself released a particular breed of far-seeing house music under the Sun God nom de plume. Even without this snippet of information, the influence certainly wouldn’t be hard to spot. That the two artists have a similar outlook on electronic music has always been obvious enough, and Moss’ label, Mathematics, has long felt a perfect home for the Liverpudlian producer.

Of course, Heckle is too wise a producer to think that homage means to blindly ape – and with a producer like Jamal Moss that would probably be an insane thing to attempt anyway. In terms of style Heckle’s usual material comes closer than most to orbiting Moss’s bizarre homeworld, and any movement here towards a sort of full-bore Moss-ism is less pronounced than it might be with someone else. While the palette of sounds contains a smattering of exactly that – the crumpled, not quite regimented drums, the howls and hisses of raw frequency – it’s in the marshalling and movement of the music that things come together.

The two shorter pieces, Track 2 and Track 4, are bursts of emotion. Elsewhere these fill in as interlude, a cleanser between the main dishes. Here they both contain plenty to get your teeth into – brief as they are – Track 2 winds up like the intro to some long forgotten Detroit classic; calm but almost imperceptibly drawing energy from its swirling motion. Track 4 bumps out a loose, chaotic rhythm of distorted claps and crusty kicks where the interplay of the percussion forms a wild and snarling melody.

The longer works might well be built ‘in the style of’ but the DNA is Heckle all the way through. Alexandria holds the tempo low enough that the delicate threads of the melody come through nicely on the back of the fat foundation of the acid bass. It’s like cooling your feet in an alien ocean of liquid mercury. It lightens itself with something of Detroit’s hunger for the wonders of tomorrow, and curves it back with a fluidity of groove and warmth. On Mesopotamia those Sun God influences are more discernible. With Alexandria they were muffled by shared tastes. Here though they come forward to centre stage; the stampede of the drums and the random stabs of noise really do recall Moss at both his hypnotic and accessible best (and that second adjective is not something which is always applicable to his work). Even so, there is more to it than that, and the tune ripples with the vibe of older Chicago tunes, the sort of metallic underground stompers which took their time to cross the pond. it’s the sort of harder edged house music which is almost an endangered species nowadays.

Whether it hits up perfectly as an homage is debatable if you’re looking at it as a sound for sound, vibe for vibe match up. But in terms of shared influences and musical direction there is very much a common energy. Alexandria, for me, leans far closer to the sounds of Detroit which began to appear between the first and second waves when the confidence in the basic framework was strong enough to use it to reach for the stars. Mesopotamia certainly does make a landing on Planet Moss, but it gives as much as it takes. Perhaps even more. At the end it doesn’t really matter because Heckle delivers something which he has done before: taking classic forms and slanting them so that we can see them in new ways. The work of Jamal Moss is important but so is John Heckles’, increasingly so. Maybe it won’t be that long until we see some Chicago scruff releasing a record called Tributes to a Scouser. I’m counting the days.