"I wanted to make a record that returned to the core values of dance music," says Marea Stamper of her first original production since 2013. It's not the first time The Black Madonna has used this turn of phrase. Speaking to RA's Andrew Ryce in 2014 about her residency at Chicago's Smart Bar, where she was formerly a booker, she talked about returning "to the core values of inclusion and pure dance euphoria." Since then, Stamper's star has risen fast, but her relationship to dance music tradition has remained the same. It's not your usual obscurer-than-thou cratedigger ethos, though. Stamper embraces the dance music canon in its most broadly understood form. She'll happily close a Panorama Bar set with The Bucketheads' "The Bomb," drop "It's Raining Men" (at Glastonbury's NYC Downlow), or draw for a pitched-down "The Bells" (at Dekmantel).
Her productions are similarly gung-ho, tackling disco classics ("Stand On The Word," on 2012's "Exodus") and acid house anthems (2013's "We Still Believe" references Adonis's "No Way Back"). But where her DJ sets deploy canonical greats with style and pinpoint accuracy, Stamper's aim as a producer isn't always so true. "He Is The Voice I Hear" is dedicated to a string of disco legends—Larry Levan, Walter Gibbons, Loleatta Holloway—and it revives the style in its most melodramatic form. There's a sweeping, sentimental piano intro and swelling strings throughout; the track's spine is a Moroder-like synth bassline. It's all bound together with an ear for a hook, mostly concentrated on the moment, after three and a half minutes, when the left hand of the piano starts to walk.
But in the end, "He Is The Voice I Hear" falls between two zones. It lacks the lavishness of a period-faithful homage, but the broad-brushstrokes arrangement offers little fresh insight on these familiar elements. The strings sound flat and the drums kind of thin. The structure is marred by clunky moments, like the harmonic detour shortly before the six-minute mark and the shrill closing piano solo. Regardless, Stamper will no doubt make this track a highlight of her sets—she's done much more with less. Outside of that context, it's hard to hear her singular magic in it.