A Gun For Hire by Spencer Parker – Saved Records
Spencer Parker may have relocated in recent times to Berlin, but his mark on the UK music scene is undeniable, even if he’s no longer geographically aligned to it. A producer of quality over quantity, eschewing the modern trend and more in demand from it, 2011 has been his most illuminating year yet, with his long-awaited debut album landing on Saved this month. Broken down into headlines – DJ first, producer later, gigs across the world’s most revered dancefloors, London resident then Berlin – Parker’s cv may sound a little identikit, but dig a little deeper and he’s an artist cut from a different cloth to the majority of the electronic music tapestry. For an often all-too-serious profession, Parker’s humourously pragmatic approach to life and music – witness his brilliant article on RA earlier this year unselfconciously puncturing a few of the more weary travelling DJ myths – makes tales of gigs in Panorama and his long-time association with Rekids gently pleasing where many would ordinarily grate. So what can we expect of (the self-effacingly named) A Gun For Hire?
For anyone that’s already aware of Spencer Parker’s DJs sets and production, it’s fair to say that it won’t be eleven DJ-friendly tracks aimed squarely at the dancefloor. It’s a cliche for any artist album of course, but eighty minutes of music here is an opportunity to delve into much more than the artist’s record box, even if that does straddle house’s many sub-genres as comfortably as anyone in his league at the moment in 2011. What you get is a selection of finely-judged cuts that bring out the best of Parker’s own character and influences, an exploration into the very mechanics of house music that approaches each track as an exercise in form, structure and melody, and results in an album that won’t give you the instant (and throwaway) tug of the competition, but will reward with each listen. A rare beast. From Start (again)’s low-slung percs and spooky melodies, stripped down to the rasping groove and slow-burning emotion, it’s an album that feels under no pressure to shoot its bolt. Similarly, Welcome To The 36 gradually entices the listener in, its shuffling hits intertwining with the strings and analogue bassline, a constant groove forming its spine rather than showy, obvious peaks and drops, while on Harmonious Forms, a track as close as any get to ‘vanilla’ house on the album, there’s an almost palpable sense of enjoyment that reflects the oft-forgotten maxim that to make music that’s as ‘you’ as it can be, not everything needs to be deconstructed or over-anaylsed. Sometimes it’s just uncomplicated, perfectly-put together four-four music.
What’s most in evidence as each track unwinds, is that, far from being saddled with the pressure a long player often brings to a DJ striving to show they’re more than their club sets, A Gun For Hire seems to see Parker rejoicing in the shackles being even more loose than a four-hour Saturday night allows. The attention to detail, especially in the multi-layered percussion and the commitment to a less-is-more ethos for groove and melody mean the music shines through, whether it’s Oscar’s Here, with its subtly wandering organ, or the dubby brilliance of Riding On The Rhythm, its vocal looping back and forth over the never-ending chord. At each point where an expectation of a theme begins to form, a swift turn is taken, and in Chouchou it’s the album’s high point; a ten-minute, shimmering, guitar-driven wonder that manages to be uplifting and wistful in equal measure. The closing track, The Look (made with Dan Beaumont), executes the final twist, a summery, filter-infused houser that could’ve basked in the summer of 1998, rather than 2011, and yet it doesn’t feel forced, even in comparison to some of the album’s sparser moments. You simply feel that Parker included it because he loves it, and that’s refreshing in an era when house music really can be too scared of simply doing something because it sounds great when you sit back and listen, however it may sound to whatever the flavour of the month is. And that’s exactly what this album does: sounds great, repeatedly.
Stories EP by Mano Le Tough – Buzzin Fly
Mano Le Tough’s moniker may conjoure up all sorts of imagery: a Victorian-era strongman with a meaty moustache, or possibly a legendary French cyclist firing up the peaks of the Pyrenees. In truth Irishman and now full-time Berliner Niall Mannion is a modern day musician in the best sense, ploughing a musical furrow that traverses deep house, disco and groove-driven beats that’s seen him release on the likes of Dirt Crew, Internasjonal and Mirau while becoming a fixture at the Kreuzberg late-night curio Kleine Reise. Having caught the attention of Ben Watt’s Buzzin’ fly via a mix for their radio show, the Stories EP marks him out as a bona fide songwriting talent, prefacing his long-player on the label in 2012.
The title track starts as a heavenly, almost beatless wonder, its starry notes fluttering over the exotic percussive elements, only the merest hint of bass adding warmth while the pads announce his vocals, first teasingly backwards, set back in the mix, then centrally, alongside piano chords. It’s a large stride forward from previous instrumental offerings, and heavy on texture. Even as the From The Start occupies more forceful territory, its transformation from dubby beginnings to acid-tinged funk, Mano’s harmonic vocals this time duelling with distortion-heavy licks, never trying to do too much, but adding colour to the already wide palette of sounds. Take It Back closes a rewarding EP with a euphoric, relentless melody, squelching synths and delay-heavy chimes that remind the listener that his instrumental work is just as strong.
Gus One – In Control EP – Endemic Digital
UK label Endemic Digital is part of a stable of imprints that’s focussed on the technier side of house since its first release back in 2008 from Harnessnoise. Now a veteran of over 40 EPs, with work from artists as diverse as X-Press 2, Colin Dale, Onionz, Moonface and Elliot Wright, and continues to plough a digital furrow on its mission to dredge up unsung talent and revisit other leading lights. For its latest effort, Endemic welcomes Londoner Gus Mundawarara, in his Gus One guise, with a trio of energetic, lush housers that further adds to its already weighty canon.
The title track launches into unrelenting, popping percs before a rolling chord pattern takes centre stage, with heavy toms adding punch and pace. It’s uncompromising, muscular modern electronica, leaning just into techno territory, with the power to keep the dancefloor moving until the small hours. Stories Can Wait follows, its flag much more in the house camp, the bpms and percs scaled back, but an approachable, combination of sub-bass and insistent melodies intertwining as the drops play with side-chained wooshes and vocal cries, adding edge as it reaches a euphoric high point. Glide Track matches In Control’s pace, but fires a lighter, layered bongo and shaker-led percussion pattern, with the stabs slowly coming to the fore, the chords cascading over one another into a lush break before returning to form. There’s an early 00s feel to the track, and it’s no bad thing, closing out the EP in style.