- This standout compilation sees the likes of Dego, K15 and Kirk Degiorgio exploring the melodic atmosphere of house music.
- While preparing to write this review, I entered the phrase "timeless deep house" into Google and came up with 11,500 results. Timeless is as cliched an adjective as "soulful" or "uplifting" when it comes to describing the sort of house music Enrico Crivellaro, AKA Volcov, has specialized in for as long as many of us have been alive. But listening to First Circle, the sublime new compilation celebrating 20 years of Crivellaro's Neroli label, time and geographical barriers seem to melt away. The musical ideas within are a distillation of the same principles that have informed similar imprints like Guidance and 2000 Black, yet still, somehow, the music feels as fresh and relevant as ever.
When soliciting tracks for The First Circle, Crivellaro drew inspiration from the label's namesake, Brian Eno's contemplative 1993 ambient album Neroli. "In general I've always been more interested in the more musical things rather than beats/drums," told InfiniteStateMachine a couple years ago. Without specifically asking for ambient tracks, Crivellaro requested material "which had a sort of intimacy—delicate melodies, introspection."
Drums don't enter the picture until The Third Circle's third track, Patrice Scott's deep, introspective, "Untitled." Even then, the emphasis is on the pensive interplay between the piano and synth lines, the rhythms a subtle afterthought in support the melodies. In fact, though house producers like Fred P appear on The First Circle, there's only one track that you could conceivably play to a full dance floor—the "Citrus," a spaced-out roller from Linkwood that concludes the album.
Instead, The First Circle homes in on the melodic common ground that links house music and broken beat with jazz, ambient and library music. K15, whose 2014 breakthrough track "Yellow" is clear kin to The First Circle's melodically-centered ambient house, leads off the album with a sumptuous piano-based intro. He's followed by Kirk Degiorgio, the UK producer (and sometime RA contributor) whose Applied Rhythmic Technology label in many ways laid the foundation for The First Circle's explorations. On label compilations like The Philosophy Of Sound And Machine, and tracks like his own "Amalia" (as As One) or event Photek's "T'Raenon," Digiorgio spent the '90s drawing a clear line between intelligent techno, deep house and an appreciation for rare groove, soul and jazz. This same alchemy is at work on The First Circle, teased out by producers like Dego, an artist whose catalogue has traversed those genres—and many more—over the decades.
This genre-agnostic approach reaches its full potential on the album's centerpiece, "Snow," a previously unheard 2010 collaboration between Volcov, UR's Gerald Mitchell and Pirahnahead. Mitchell and Crivellaro work up a moody atmosphere with pads and some skittering percussion. Pirahnahead, who had just woken up from a nap, plays a one-take guitar solo straight from the heart, the way Eddie Hazel did on Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain," recorded at Universal Studios four decades earlier in Detroit. That night in the studio, Pirahnahead, Mitchell and Volcov weren't concerned with whether "Snow" would fit neatly as the A1 on a dance 12-inch. They were tapping into a continuum that predates house, Hazel and even recorded music. The First Circle captures a group of artists who travel along a reverent path that extends from the past infinitely into the future.
01. K15 - Disillusioned
02. Kirk Degiorgio - Leave Everything Behind
03. Patrice Scott - Untitled
04. Aybee - River Of Evermore
05. Ian O'Brien - Music Comes From Within
06. Gerald Mitchell, Volcov, Pirahnahead - Snow
07. Dego - 31 Losses 31 Wins
08. Fred P - Star Crossed
09. Linkwood - Citrus