- Terre Thaemlitz's Routes Not Roots was only released five years ago, and yet here we are with a reissue at the tail end of a comprehensive campaign by French label Skylax Records. Maybe the premature revisionism is appropriate in this case: the kind of sprawling, deconstructive house statement laid out on Routes Not Roots is decidedly pre-internet in the time it takes both to unfold its carefully layered tale and to properly invest in the mammoth album. Originally released on Thaemlitz's Comatonse platform, it was, until now, out of print, and admittedly Skylax have done a service in giving the album a second go after the wave of new interest in Thaemlitz following his 2008 album Midtown 120 Blues.
Stylistically, Routes Not Roots is the logical precursor to Midtown 120 Blues, spacious deep house built from the ghosts of New York house and garage and the disquieting technological anxiety of Tokyo. Though crafted with a more diverse set of samples and moods, Roots features embryonic iterations of the luscious deep blue depression that would come to define Midtown 120 Blues; Roots is rawer, redder and more volatile. The most obvious connection is "Hobo Train," where acoustic guitar, claustrophobic drum loops and dark, discordant piano form a whirring, propulsive rhythm that itself doesn't sound unlike a rocketing train. The track utilizes the same memorable speech sample as Midtown's "Sisters, I Don't Know What This World Is Coming To," which on that album was a synth-heavy aural landscape subverting the manic-depressive hope of "Train" into near-hopelessness.
That comparison sets the crucial difference that colours this album: Routes is lively and unpredictable. Here, Thaemlitz sets his ever-active conceptual sights on sexuality and "complicating origins," exemplified in its use of samples taken from country songs (making "black" out of "white" according to Thaemlitz). "Crosstown" stretches out over thirteen minutes, a chorus of excitable drums, shakers and shimmering chords, but the somewhat festive mood is dampened by the disturbed identity politics that circle repeatedly in the form of an unforgettable vocal sample. "You my bitch!/Nuh-uh, we are bitches" sounds defeatist in the context of overwhelming cultural oppression and suppression, the kind of intra-musical critical thought Thaemlitz is known for.
Routes Not Roots largely lives up to its mission, playing with and obscuring the origins and constructions of deep house music. The all-important house piano is plastered over the album, but it's always dark, dissonant and dreadful, staining the stimulant-addled shake of "B2B" and stomping unceremoniously over the gorgeous melody of opener "Down Home Kami Sakunobe." With the stream of lengthy house workouts interrupted by tense spoken interludes and ambient meanderings, Roots is also a transparent self-portrait of Thaemlitz, exorcising and fearlessly exhibiting every aspect and facet of his personality as it pours out in awkwardly sized, uneven chunks.
But that's what Routes Not Roots is all about: Thaemlitz makes his audience feel things, channeling every bit of pain, deprivation and release that led to house music's birth into what sounds like a rebirth, an idea he would go on to focus and perfect with Midtown 120 Blues. Even if it's a little meandering at times, imperfections or not, Routes is about one of the most unique and affecting house albums you'll ever hear.
01. Down Home Kami-Sakunobe
02. Saki-chan (Pt.1)
03. Hobo Train
04. Fuck the Down-Low
06. Stand Up
07. Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair
08. Double Secret (Dub)
09. Saki-chan (Pt.2)
11. Head (In My Private Lounge, My Pad)