- The Canadian artist successfully evolves his distinctive take on bittersweet house and R&B.
- When Philippe Aubin-Dionne released "(Baby I Don't Know) What You Want," his first track as Jacques Greene, the spirit of experimentation in club music, especially in the UK, was in overdrive. Night Slugs, the label that put out the track in 2010, was among a broad community of labels intent on offering its followers something—or someone—fresh with each release. Looking back on the period (let's say 2009 until 2012, for argument's sake), there was plenty of killer, strikingly innovative music that could only have been conceived in a time of such creative openness. There is also stuff that sounds a little dated, the rampant quest for the new yielding sounds and ideas that didn't stick beyond the month or so they were released in.
With the benefit of hindsight, Aubin-Dionne stands apart among all of this sonic upheaval. While his contemporaries moved onto the next recombination of sounds or reconfiguration of a genre, he did something pretty radical: he stayed the same. Now, this isn't to take away from the gains he's made as a producer over the past decade. But Aubin-Dionne seemed to sense something valuable in what he discovered in those early days, and he's stuck with it. That means warped, R&B-style vocal samples, bright yet melancholic synthesisers, and rhythms that, while veering off occasionally, have roots in house music. This has been the basis for Aubin-Dionne's many releases on the boundary-pushing LuckyMe label and a popular live show that's seen him headline venues big and small. He's as decent an advert as you'll find for artists to stick to their creative guns.
Dawn Chorus does highlight some of the drawbacks in cultivating a delineated sound, but it also shows plenty of artistic growth within these parameters, and in most respects it's a stronger album than 2017's Feel Infinite, his first LP. There are many ways you could define the mood Aubin-Dionne loves so much. Bittersweet is one. Some of his tracks sound sad but triumphant. Other times, bruised but proud. (If this type of thing doesn't speak to you there'd be little point in approaching this album, or his catalogue in general.) Aubin-Dionne does it better than he ever has on Dawn Chorus, but there's always the mild risk of the listener's emotional well running dry, like a post-rave brain low on serotonin. For me, this point was at "Sibling," track number eight of 12. As a fairly standard house thumper in the Jacques Greene mould, it was the point at which I lost some empathy with the artist's imagined plight.
Another way to look at this is that it simply comes with the Jacques Greene turf—if things occasionally become one-dimensional it's arguably the admission price for the many successes this album packs. At least some of this credit should go to the various collaborators Aubin-Dionne works with. There are no official "featuring" tags, and it'd take some guesswork to establish who appears where. Does, for instance, the weight of the beat and wailing synths on "Drop Location" mean Clams Casino was in the building? Is that Rochelle Jordan, the Canadian singer who's previously worked with Machinedrum and Jimmy Edgar, on the R&B banger "Let Go"? We know the rapper Cadence Weapon appears on "Night Service," one of the album's singles, which has a bold 303 line at its centre. But what of the film composer Brian Reitzell, the cellist Oliver Coates and the singer Ebhoni? That they were "sampled, processed and stitched back into the album" avoids some of the baggage associated with collab-heavy albums, keeping things more focussed on Aubin-Dionne's evolving vision.
In this respect, the drums and rhythms are the biggest area of growth versus past Jacques Greene material. In the past his beats could feel a little rudimentary—a few too many classic house kits, perhaps—but the sharpness and variety on Dawn Chorus is pretty striking. The opener, "Serenity," and "Do It Without You," a glistening highlight, both benefit from the use of sampled breaks (or the impression of them). "For Love" is a disco-house stomper that gets its wiggling groove from humid hand percussion. The closer, "Stars," has also a loose four-on-the-floor pulse, which sounds more natural next to the moonlight melody Aubin-Dionne chooses to end the record with. "Sel," "Understand" and "Distance" are also worth mentioning, either because they have crisp beats, unique beats or no beats at all. Taking even these three as a snapshot of where Aubin-Dionne is at with the Jacques Greene project, it feels like he could comfortably keep going for another ten (or more) years, discovering slightly new ways of doing his thing.
02. Drop Location
03. Do It Without You
04. Night Service
06. Let Go
07. For Love