- Dave Aju's conceptual precision on Open Wide is admirable—"all tracks written and produced...using only his mouth as a sound source." It's a pretty good hinge for an album, and a good way to get critical attention, even if the idea is cribbed more-or-less from Herbert's Bodily Functions. (Herbert's evidently been listening, too—Aju's now releasing via Herbert's Accidental imprint.) These self-imposed limits can help hone an artist's aesthetic, necessity being the mother of invention and all that, but an artist can also become a cropper for these restrictions—play your cards wrong, and you've got a record that's all talk and no backbone. With Open Wide, Aju (AKA San Francisco based DJ/producer Marc Barrite) has largely managed to avoid that outcome, though there are a few moments here where you'll wonder whether he's fighting a losing battle.
Those particular tracks are mostly front-loaded on Open Wide, so don't give up if you find the circular, characterless "Roundabout" or the cringe-worthy lyrics on "Bump" (which is otherwise a serviceable, if unremarkable pass at the bumpty bump) frustrating. If they test your patience as much as they did mine, skip straight to "Crazy Place." In many ways Aju's breakthrough moment, it's as thrilling now as it was when it started circulating earlier this year. Squeezing disco toms, woodblock percussion and hissing hi-hats from his lips and tongue, he builds a limber groove to frame a breathless vocal round. It's even better when remixed by Luciano at the end of the CD: the pace increases, Aju's whispered asides are threaded into a series of urgent, nervous tics, a juddering riff cuts up the track like scissors through cellophane, before a keyboard solo finishes up somewhere between maddeningly repetitive and gloriously aleatory.
Elsewhere, "Open Wide" takes on broken beat—others have rightly noted it's close to reggaeton territory, though the real thrill here is the Morse code, walkie-talkie melody that squeezes from the headphones about two minutes in. "Anyway" plays out as a tribute to Pépé Bradock's mix of Iz & Diz's "Mouth"—from cheek-popping snares through slippery, ballooning bass and pinprick chords, it's got the same compulsive bounce as Bradock's mix, and its attention to detail is lovely (watch out for the squelching slurps and swallows that pop up every now and then). On tracks like this, Open Wide works because, while its concept is ultimately subservient to the overall composition, you can't imagine these tracks functioning in quite the same manner, or having the same impact, without the particular tenor of Aju's mouth-noise.
On tracks like "Anyway" and "Crazy Place," Aju measures himself admirably, and an album full of tracks of their quality would have gone down a treat. But there are some stumbling blocks on here, largely I suspect due to Aju's desire to reach across genres, to "do disco," "do R&B," "do broken beat" and so on. I think he might have got a little lost in that desire to canvas as many genres as possible. It's a good album, at times genuinely diverting, but Open Wide would have benefited from more focus.
03. Crazy Place
04. First Love
06. Open Wide
08. With You
09. Crazy Place (Luciano remix) (Bonus Track)