There’s always something of a contrarian streak to Detroit dance music producer Theo Parrish that can also come across as purist, crotchety, fussbudgety. When he first began releasing music in 1996, Parrish and peers like Kenny Dixon Jr., Marcellus Pittman, Rick Wilhite, Andrés, and more did dance music that was not quite in step with the scene. Instead of futurism and the whirring machinations that informed Detroit’s sleekest export, techno, they preferred house’s slightly slower pulse, their tracks infused with their parents and grandparents’ record collections. Swells of church organ, the coos of R&B, jazz’s swing, funk’s rhythmic gunk—some half-century’s worth of African-American music—teemed just beneath the kick drum.
But as house music tightened and grew sleeker, Parrish’s tracks loosened and turned viscous. He began dropping disco edits and when edits began to flood the market soon after, his grew uglier. Deep house all the rage now? Well then, Parrish’s most recent mix is comprised entirely out of charged 1970’s free jazz. He’s as renowned for not giving you what you want in a DJ set as he is for delivering both the headiest and dankest dance music of the last 20 years.
He gives you all you can handle with American Intelligence, a title that with each passing news day feels more and more like an oxymoron. It’s his first album since 2007 and the end result is a massive listen, a two-hour collection (or else a slightly trimmed triple LP), with 10 of its 15 tracks approaching or breaking the 10-minute barrier. Within it, Parrish embraces the paradox of the title: indulgent and defiant, serious and cheeky, political yet intent on getting your dead ass to move. The man is musically generous, even if a copy in the shop might set you back $50.
The album opens with a subliminal bass tone that will set your subwoofer to trembling. He then carefully drips in closed hi-hats, a snare just a millimeter too fast, a ride cymbal that splatters like a circuit in a rain puddle, all of it embellishing a heart-quickening throb. Parrish then takes his sweet fucking time to whisper to his fellow countrymen: “Where’s your drive? Has it died?” He then answers himself: “It keeps me alive.”
Throughout the length of this album, Parrish keeps to the sparest of rhythmic sounds. And as he put it in a recent interview, that was his intent: “What I try to get to is that part of everybody that is childlike and is simple, it goes to the rhythm, the repetition. The idea of a handclap that keeps happening over and over again is the most-simple thing that can happen and is something everybody can do and relate to.” He’s the Alice Waters of dance music, turning a handful of fresh ingredients into a feast. Often the rhythm tracks are erected out of little more than a live kick drum, tom, snare, hi-hat, dashes of other hand percussion (bells, rattles), with pads adding a bit more heft. Out of such Spartan percussion, he mesmerizes, to where introducing a new element 5-6 minutes deep suddenly turns revelatory. Some six minutes amongst the echoing bloops and zagging keys of “Tympanic Warfare”, the drums start to sizzle and what once seemed abstract and not fully sketched out now feels solid.
The length of tracks slows down AI at some points, while some of the keyboard figures seem to echo melodies found elsewhere, which to newcomers might get misread as sameness. As rapturous as the beatless R&B exhalations of vocalist Ideeyah are on “Ah”, it would have been more effective and sublime at five minutes instead of 10. “Helmut Lampshade” turns into a jazz fusion robot run amok. The highway patrol dialogue on “Welcome Back” is a throwaway track, but there’s little doubt it’s rooted in the ugliest of truths about American racism, underscoring the political that is always just beneath the surface of Parrish’s music and discourse.
The track well worth wading through is the 13 glorious minutes of “Be In Yo Self”. Built from a shuffling cymbal that slowly gathers momentum, aspects of the track are smooth enough to scan as nu-jazz yet it still feels rooted and raw. Guitarist Duminie DePorres delivers a snaking Phil Upchurch-type guitar line as Ideeyah hums and harmonizes with herself, singing ad nauseam: “Being yourself shouldn’t have a downside.”
As Parrish explained in the aforementioned interview, the song is “almost kind of like a spiritual. It’s a chant.” Midway through, the shift comes not from a new rhythmic element, but a lyrical one: “Hey suga, would you dance a little bit closer to me?” It’s deep, not so much in the house sense, but in an emotional way, an honest request to his betrothed. It’s Parrish at his most disarming, and coming as it does in his broad discography, it’s a most agreeable sound.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1qD5mBF