- Earlier this year, Dial released a cheeky ode to the Chicago house music that's always served as such a foundational element to the label's sound in Efdemin's, well, naturally, Chicago. But, frankly, the Windy City might be even more relevant in setting the historical site for the much-anticipated debut album of Berlin-based American John Roberts, Glass Eights. Following a debut on John Daly's Feel Music and singles on Dial and its sister-label Laid, Roberts has quickly established himself as a young producer adept at designing almost classically textured and intricate Chicago deep house. Though certainly grounded in mournful or melancholy overtones, Roberts' best cuts exude a kind of blissful sadness, a contentment to linger in sorrow that owes a lot to the emotional release of genres like blues and jazz. Those touchstones can be heard more explicitly on Glass Eights, which folds jazzy grand piano runs, violins, upright bass and funky organs into Roberts' complex candlelit house.
Melded together from various samples and live instrumentation, the first thing one notes about Glass Eights is its fluidity. If perhaps it won't lead to any singles as strong as, say, "Blame," the gain here is in how nimbly Roberts constructs an evocative narrative across the album's ten tracks. As such, Glass Eights is, first and foremost, an album lover's delight. Though Roberts' music can sometimes seem kind of chilly from the surface—almost stately and academic in tone—that's a quality undermined by how comforting it becomes when lived in for a while.
In fact, though I hesitate to employ the term, Roberts' approach here seems almost symphonic; remove any of its passages and the entire record would feel as though a critical segue had been missed, whether it's the muffled vinyl crackle and musty piano loop of opener "Lesser," or the faint tinkling bells and choppy hip-hop beats of "Interlude (Telephone)." Roberts revels, simply, in sound, and much of the album's texture is augmented by his usage of vinyl hissing, out-of-tune piano or a bass backbone that sounds almost bouncy.
These were clearly tracks meant to lean on each other, to serve as bridges, asides and propulsive gestures in ways that guide the listener through Roberts' patient and often elegant brand of moodsetting. With its distant whistling sounds and faint percussive ticks, "Pruned" creates an almost spooky atmosphere via its economical use of space—a quiet night at home when the electricity cuts out—but the slow tension it builds is leveled by the easeful elegance and beauty of "Porcelain" and the slow autumnal sway of "August," two of the record's late standouts. In turn, based around muted piano loops that sound as though they're reverberating in a room empty for years, "Went" is a moment of ambient restraint that sets the tone for the warm, thumpy house of the title track that closes the record.
If, as I said earlier, it may be difficult to extract any killer singles, Roberts has clearly emphasized the whole over the summed parts and crafted one of the year's most engaging and contemplative full-lengths. Glass Eights is a minor marvel, and the best deep house record I've heard all year.
02. Navy Blue
03. Ever Or Not
05. Interlude (Telephone)
9. Glass Eights