Review: V/A – Apartment and Sunday Times (Apartment Records)

Back in the nineties it started to become possible to home in on individual and specific strands of house. The music was beginning to explode into a million forms as the original template drifted out of the hands of the original progenitors and into the sweaty grasp of people whose love for it, and their understanding of what it was, wasn’t tied to a specific era or geographical place. This brought benefits, chief amongst them a widening of the basic concept as various groups sought to rewire the sound for their own scenes and their own lives.

In the same way that we are attracted to the music which reflects something of ourselves, so it was for different communities. Of course, nothing can remain eternally pure, and nothing can remain true to a concept which only a handful of people may originally have held. With this was a growth in popularity, accompanied by a probably inevitable softening of many of genre’s strongest and most important elements. House today is a far cry from what first coalesced in Chicago clubs more than thirty years ago. It is a commercial enterprise now, and one which dwarfs every other electronic genre with the exception of the EDM charade.

The upshot of this is that when you do come across music which still harks back to something that is organically, intrinsically house (whether soulful, or acidic, or harder), it can sound alien to ears which have become attuned to the sleek forms which now dominate. We hear so much about deep house, about lo-fi house, that the deluge tends to drown out all other sounds. We begin to, well, maybe not so much accept them as the spiritual successors as allow them more leeway than they really deserve. It’s easier just to let it go.

Which brings us to this new four tracker on Irish label Apartment, a record which sounds and feels like the antithesis of so much of that contemporary house. Certainly, after so long stuck with house music which seeks to do little more than provide a momentary sugar rush, the collective of ideas, influences, and subtly altering moods on display here feel incredibly rich and a little jarring. It’s like coming face to face with an old friend you had thought long-lost; the warmth of familiarity filtered through a strange sense of anxiety and displacement.

Part of this odd feeling is rooted, perhaps, in the way that each of the four tracks here feel disconnected from the usual selection of influences, those ageing ideas which each new generation feels it has to tip its hat to. Sure, if you dig into the DNA far enough you’ll find those threads of Marshal Jefferson or Mr Fingers, or brush up against a genetic memory of Disco or Italo, but what you won’t get is the note-by-note transcription of the ancient past, and there is virtually none of house’s recent infatuation with ‘how we got here’. Which is a breath of fresh air because there comes a point where the past is nothing more than a roadblock.

Even so, Tr One’s Afrobeatdown has the feel of classic house, even if it’s of the breezy, Detroit techno tinged sort that Derrick May would melt your mind with in the middle of a set. Easy to swallow, but nourishing, it rides closest to the sort of thing which was coming out of the East Coast a few years back, and championed by the likes of DJ Q: a blend of thick house vibes cut open with razor-sharp touches and quick movement, held together by a bass which’ll void the insurance on your speakers.

Colm K’s Rays feels very much like a companion piece to Afrobeatdown, a more introspective examination of what happens when the music opens out to accommodate a wellspring of subtly variating moods. So much of the groove is carried in the little, almost incidental moments that it almost feels as if it doesn’t need the beats, although they are most welcome when they finally make their cameo.

It isn’t deep, not in the conventional sense of layering hackneyed, jazzy, riffs over lazy pads. Instead it works the contrast until the edges vanish into the shadows, and the way it plays with expectations, deconstructing rhythms and toying with the tune’s direction keeps it locked to an internalized and hidden compass. As open as the music’s sense of soulful adventure seems, it’ll have you working to get everything you can out of it.

Colm K’s other track, the short blast of late night soul that is HEY, could easily feel like a pastiche, but actually nods it’s head towards those parent genres which informed and influenced house but now feel cut out of the lazily written official history. It glistens with the grooves of 80s synthetic funk, R&B, and Vandrossian soul. There’s very little to it, if truth be told, but it’s a brilliant reminder that stepping off the path brings rewards.

The closer, Static’s Fallen Sky is perhaps the odd one out, being a heavier, less warmly open piece of house. Actually, it’s barely house at all and in many ways has little to do with any particular form of modern electronica (although that alone probably makes it a better example of modern electronica than most.) I don’t quite know where to start with it. It makes me think of Public Image – perhaps because the echoed snaps of vocals have more than a little of John Lydon’s honk to them – but mostly, as with HEY, it reminds me that the received wisdom of house is usually wrong, that the ocean of genetic soup that birthed it was far more stormy and exciting than we are led to believe. Part new wave, part Leftfield, part I haven’t got a clue what, it rotates the wrong way around, and forever catches you looking, guiltily, backwards.

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