- John Roberts' debut for Dial marks its first release from an American, and it's a decidedly housier turn for a label that has so far built its identity around a first-class roster of mostly-minimal artists like Lawrence, Efdemin and Pantha du Prince. It seems like this could be an index of larger style shifts at play: if critics like The Guardian's Tony Naylor are to be believed, deep house marks one of subgenres poised for resurgence in light of a supposed broad creative fatigue affecting minimal.
In Roberts' case the house factor bursts onto the scene about a minute into the EP's eponymous opener: He spends the intro speaking the stripped techno dialect of his Dial compatriots before diving into deep house waters, using slivers of melody and sampled soul to great effect over a spare midtempo groove. The most remarkable aspect of this track, however, will be missed unless you give it repeated headphone attention: It's actually a micrological wonder, with a deep background populated with numerous ghostly repetitions of foregrounded noises. It almost sounds like a vinyl palimpsest, like the song's been pressed on top of some forgotten previous incarnation which nevertheless continues to flutter and bounce, submerged underneath.
There's a nicely cohesive rhythmic progression across the three tracks, a kind of gentle descent, like a fair-weather plane landing. It begins with the relatively straightforward house shake of "Hesitate," lowers gears on the even-sparer "Promises," and bottoms out in the final "Sweat Me," which teeters on that ultimate limit point for woozy grooves where a wobble too far and you're on your ass on the dance floor. By and large the reward in Roberts' tracks lies in the details.
Take, for example, the hand clap, which is the nose on techno's face: It's that organ that sticks right out and meets you two inches before the body does, and as a result its contours are of great consequence. (You can't hide a lousy clap anymore than you can mask a Cyrano schnozz.) The production on this EP would look stunning on Roberts' CV should he think of going into rhinoplasty. "Hesitate"'s standard electronic claps on the 2 and 4 beat are nicely echoed by acoustic ones that lend the track a breezy, subtle organicity. The clap on "Promise" is a compressed, sharp-tipped beaut that snaps with rubber-band thwack, like an ear-flick from a grade-school hooligan. It's great counterpoint to the cascades of tinkling piano tumbling across the beats with the sort of ornate flourish you'd associate with a Morricone soundtrack.
Lastly "Sweat Me" is some good-natured lounge wonk that sounds like it's been de-tuned, flush with goofy, inebriated ardor, with descending organ chord-stabs and some highly drunken jazz piano clunk that can barely stand up straight—if you're supposed to sweat him, it sounds like you're doing it alone in the cab home after a few too many.
B2 Sweat Me