- John Roberts seems like someone attuned to aesthetics. You can see it in the New York house producer's beautifully packaged records and the elegant print publication he co-founded, The Travel Almanac, items that would all compliment each other sitting side by side on a shelf. His tracks, often resembling collections of pristine sounds and curated influences displayed in the form of avant-garde dance music, could also be taken as such. Now, with the launch of his Brunette Editions label, Roberts will bring more "music, printed matter, recordings and books" into his curatorial oeuvre. His first installment, the two-track Orah EP, retains a levity, sheen and stylistic freedom present in some of his best work, even as he adds new approaches to the glass case.
Both "Orah" and "Renata" were created with an Akai MPC2000 and samples housed on "20 semi-opaque purple floppy disks." Roberts has said the process "didn't come easily," but you'd never guess from the sound of it. Everything feels loose and natural, like the producer simply turned on the machine and banged out his sequences on the fly. The sprightly synth line at the core of "Orah" is one of those light jingles you might come up with while whistling in the shower, and "Renata" has more than a few melodic patterns that are almost childlike in their whimsy. To his credit, Roberts gives each production enough maturity to keep them from resembling, say, PC Music heights of gleeful abandon, and the restraint aligns Orah perfectly with discerning dance floors.
It's when the tracks deny moderation that they can lose their classy edge. At about 10 minutes long, "Orah" has too much time to configure and reconfigure each of its manicured sounds. The high point comes just after the halfway mark, when the boomy percussion kicks in the fourth time, and coasts into a fluid breakdown. But by the time Roberts brings the beat back for a fifth turn, he also piles on all the melodies and rhythms at his disposal; those last three minutes are a bit gratuitous, if not downright confusing at points. Despite some clutter, the way "Renata" slips between drum-centric sections, emotive synth milieus and noisy fanfare is more graceful. Orah doesn't paint Roberts as a maximalist by any stretch, but it does seem interested in finding out just how much it can do with every idea on hand.