April 13, 2012

Son Raw’s getting into some real bad things.

It’s impossible to overstate the impact of Addison Groove’s Footcrab single. Previously best known for his slow, technoid Dubstep as Headunter, Tony Williams not only re-launched his career with his Chicago-London fusion piece but also helped ignite outsider interest in Footwork and synthesized a direction for Loefah’s since-dominant Swamp81 record label. Transistor Rhythms, Williams’ first album under the Addison Groove moniker, reigns things in a bit. If you’re expecting 13 tracks of Footwork, you’ll probably be disappointed as this Addison grooves to a slower, more traditional booty-house tempo. Perhaps it’s Modeselektor’s Berlin-based label 50 Weapons (subconsciously?) influencing the proceedings but there’s also bit of the ol’ Headhunter creeping back into things: Footcrab’s jazzy chords are emphasized and the drum machines are more precise, less rough-and-ready than the American influences he draws from.

All of this makes for a record that’s less-shockingly bracing than some would have liked on first listen but it also safeguards the record from the fatigue and exhaustion that accompanies say, Planet Mu’s Bangs & Works releases. “Night to Remember” and “Incredibly Exhausted Bunny Ears” for example are Juke-in-drums only, otherwise trading in the dark, sexy LDN funk that made Dubstep so exciting just a few years ago. Single “Bad Things” somehow manages to make Spankrock bearable by chopping his vocals into bite sized portions and “Rudebwoy” and “Skylight” do the same with diva vocals, the kind of trick that’s been seen before but still feels radically new in this context. Even the Energy Flashback interlude positively shimmers with ecstasy (pun intended): at it’s best, the record fuses UK hardcore energy to Juke’s in a way that makes the two traditions feel like the distant and compatible relatives that they are.

On about half the tracks however, things are a bit dicier. Sooperlooper tries to bridge the gap between big room dance music and the underground and winds up as interesting as neither. “Ass Jazz” starts off interestingly enough but fails to go anywhere. Beeps is one Spankrock appearance too many with, a vocal that works neither as comedy nor as a full blown sex rap. Part of the problem is the fact that the tempos Williams works in are too conservative for their own good: with England running out of ways to pretend its mutant House is actually an evolution rather than a regression, the templates explored are less thrilling than they should be. By the time we reach the faster paced stretch at the back of the album, it’s clear that Footwork’s velocity and dirtiness is the antidote to London’s 130BPM blues, but stripped of those elements all we’re left with are very precise drum machine tracks approximating 80s electro, a pastiche far less exciting than the potential fusion.

Transistor Rhythms is a success, albeit a partial one. Though it could use a few more hooks and a little less restraint, it’s proof that Addison Groove is onto something, even if he needn’t differ so much to his home country’s rules, particularly when he’s so good at breaking them. Perhaps he should look to the iconoclastic Mark Pritchard with whom he collaborates on “Dance of the Women” – that track is as unrestrained and tribal as anything out there. After all, what’s party music without the party?

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