Let’s Dance – Dennis Cruz: Roots (Crosstown Rebels)

dennis-cruz

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This is the first album from established Spanish producer and DJ Dennis Cruz, who is ready to put his own spin on house music through a ten-track long player. He does this with a succession of guest artists, topped by an appearance from the late Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, but also including P. Rivas, Ian Luvig, Josh Butler, Iuliano Mambo and Leo Wood.

What’s the music like?

The propulsive rhythms of La Ratonera start the album, a signal of intent with their persuasive shimmying. The nine-minute track has plenty of room to grow, with sultry flute work and the sound of a party in the distance. This cuts to Los Tamales, an instrumental with a lovely swing to its rhythm and old-time piano riff. Later another instrumental, Bend, plays some games with a trumpet and voice imitating each other over a bouncy beat.

Ian Luvig then steps up to provide the stripped back vocal for Good Old Days, a minimal affair with quite a stark texture but a mission to hit the dancefloor hard. The same could be said for Ecua, with some flamenco flavoured brilliance added to the mix, spliced and diced by Cruz’s skilful production. The temperature stays heated for What U Doing, with Leo Wood’s sultry vocals dressing a heat hazed bed of keyboards.

Go Down will be of great interest to fans of the late Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, who fronts a busy rhythm track. This is a night piece that cuts up his voice inventively, delivering a fluid groove to go with it. It is countered nicely by the raucous trumpets of Ahora Toda Va (Dub), where Josh Butler whips up the crowd.

Te Quiero Cantar takes us back towards the pool, a really nice Mediterranean flavoured instrumental, before Back Again hooks up with Iuliano Mambo for a woozy, sun soaked jam with a big bass sound.

Does it all work?

It does. There is nothing staid or square about Dennis Cruz’s take on house music – the rhythms sway and sashay their way around the dancefloor as he applies plenty of flavour to the mix, keen to show off his Spanish heritage to the max. The vocal guests are the icing on the cake.

Is it recommended?

For sure. Cruz brings warmth to the winter with a set of grooves that prove pretty much irresistible.

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Switched On – Nightmares On Wax: Shout Out! To Freedom… (Warp)

nightmares-on-wax

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Coronavirus pandemic has had a deep effect on many artists, causing them to rethink their approach to life and often showing them the things of greatest importance. George Evelyn, the man behind Nightmares On Wax, is no exception, as a life spent largely on the road became extended time spent with his wife and daughter.

At the same time he was in the midst of a cancer scare, prompting him to write Shout Out! as though it was his last album. The profound effect of these life-changing experiences led to what he declares to be his most personal album yet – and his most thankful one too.

What’s the music like?

Shout Out! To Freedom… has typically blissful Nightmares On Wax vibes, with good feelings to the fore, but there is definitely something more profound hovering on the surface. The positive feelings are dispensed from the start, but contemplation and appreciation is often the order of the day.

3D Warrior is one of the finest tracks in that respect, with a mellow saxophone sound from Shabaka Hutchings and some excellent vocals from Haile Supreme and Wolfgang Haffner. Hutchings appears again in Wonder, a beautiful piece of work where the instrument really feels airborne and lost in time, its opening statement akin to a piece of ancient plainchant.

Greentea Peng is a captivating and provocative presence on Wikid Satellites, her vocal an excellent foil as the music steps up a gear. Own Me is a thoughtful study in positivity with Haile Supreme to the accompaniment of a dreamy trumpet, while Isolated – in spite of its obvious lyrical influence – is uplifting in a deep-rooted way, positivity coursing through the warm production. Trillion has an electro edge, sharpening the vocals from Mara TK, while Miami 80 is an excellent, piano-based instrumental construction that could be longer.

Evelyn has a very natural musical style that can’t be fully pinned down, other than to say he works in elements of hip hop, soul, dub and funk without ever restricting himself to one. The vocalists are well-chosen, while the production casts an attractive heat haze over the whole album.

Does it all work?

Very much so. This is deeply felt material, made by an artist still at the top of his game, bringing music to Warp that is just as meaningful as when he started with the label in 1991.

Is it recommended?

Yes. As simple as that!

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Switched On – Matthew Herbert: Musca (Accidental)

musca

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

With more than 25 years’ worth of experience in making house music, Matthew Herbert knows more than most how to make people dance. He has done so in a wide variety of ways, none more so than in his so-called ‘domestic’ albums Around The House and Bodily Functions – where the music was made from home appliances and the human body respectively.

Musca completes a trilogy of these albums, as far as the production goes – with added vocals from eight singers who Herbert had not met at the time of recording. It is, in effect, the ultimate lockdown album.

What’s the music like?

If you liked Herbert’s 1990s deep house, with its experimental tendencies and intimate language, you’ll love this. To get his musical sounds the composer manipulated a number of sounds from around the farm where he lives – so there are cameos from the pigs, dogs and foxes to name just a few. This being Herbert the sounds are expertly treated and fashioned into the language of house music, which on this occasion is a soulful model, especially with some of the vocalists involved.

Bianca Rose stands out for her contributions to Chain Reaction, Gold Dust and Let Me Sleep. The first of these has a lovely choral effect that Herbert secures as part of his word painting, while the last is a dreamy, piano-led nocturnal number with a wide sonic scope. Verushka is another to stand out on Fantasy, which has a clunking beat reminiscent of mid-90s Herbert and a sublime vocal.

Allie Armstrong is also an ideal foil for Herbert’s music, with the sombre but curiously moving The Horror a standout among her three contributions, its lyrics especially moving. The Impossible, meanwhile, has the backdrop of what sounds like a dripping tap in a barn, but the multi-tracked vocals are like a warm blanket in the coda.

Meanwhile Hypnotised, with Mel Uye-Parker, works really well thanks to deep keyboards and lovely layered vocals to dive into. It comes off the back of the treated vocals of Joy Morgan in Two Doors, with shuffling beats the backdrop to quite an eerie experience.

Only one of the 14 tracks is instrumental, The Slip positioned in the centre of the album and taking a jazzier profile, with flute solo and plucked bass.

Does it all work?

It does, largely. Part of this will depend on your approach to Herbert, for if you started listening to him because of his house music ventures you will definitely warm to this. It has an urban and soulful charm, with its beautifully layered textures, and its songs are constantly shifting, never too repetitive.

Is it recommended?

Very much so – for Musca is an album that is at turns relaxing, hypnotic, moving and subtly inspiring. Herbert’s command of the beats ensures there is never a moment wasted.

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Let’s Dance – Stefano Ranieri: Risonanza (Nulu Electronic)

stefano-ranieri

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This is the first album for Italian producer Stefano Ranieri. He has been making and releasing music for around 15 years, and is now ready to dip his toes into the long player format. A list of the DJs supporting Ranieri’s work includes Carl Cox and Masters At Work, says much about his reputation built up in that time, and also the styles of dance music he gravitates towards.

What’s the music like?

Excellent. Ranieri uses all his experience of making dancefloors move to come up with a wide range of tracks that fulfill that brief perfectly. Koncept One has a touch of Lil Louis about it, with a great vocal rant ‘you’re not free, you’re a slave’. It comes after Your Time Is Up has set a smoky scene with a really good loping beat.

1942 has a powerful vocal and a strong piano line. C’est Terrible goes more acidic but counters that with a really good, slightly tribal sample. Saulè punches through a bassy electro riff, while a minimal cut like Karming Deep works really well as it has a good vocal cut to go with its keyboard hook. Die Of Pain has a real gravitas, taking the tail end of a Martin Luther King speech. Of Course is excellent too, rolling along nicely.

Does it all work?

Consistently. Ranieri knows what works on the most basic level, and has the confidence to let his beats do the talking. Each of the fifteen tracks is excellent, really well paced, and does all the right things – without ever being routine.

Is it recommended?

Enthusiastically. Risonanza is a really fine piece of work, whether you approach it from a house, techno or electro direction. Stefano Ranieri can be proud of his achievement.

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You can listen to clips from the album and purchase Anywhere Here on Traxsource

Let’s Dance – Gavin Boyce: Anywhere Here (Nordic Trax)

COVER_4.7

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

It has been out for a couple of months, but when you consider the debut album from Irish producer Gavin Boyce has been two decades in the releasing, what’s a few days between friends?! In that 20 years Boyce has been concentrating his endeavours on the single or EP format, with a stream of high quality house, techno and deep disco releases, many of them released on the excellent Canadian label Nordic Trax.

Their relationship goes back to 2012, and includes the much-loved Haboo, but his reputation for quality and positive house goes back a long way before then, with a fine bouncy vocal track called So Obvious getting pride of place on a Sessions mix by Mark Farina in 2006.

Anywhere Here contains a 2021 album mix of Haboo and a new version of Boyce’s 2008 release Face Down, alongside 10 other originals.

What’s the music like?

You don’t have to spend much time at all with Anywhere Here to know that it carries the imprint of an experienced production hand. Yet with Boyce experience has never bred over-familiarity, and he has always had a strong inventive streak running through his house music. Each of the instrumental tracks here on the carries a spark, a spring in its step, with a bit of class too.

Try Be Grand, a really strong nocturnal track that introduces itself with a slightly dubby tread. Haboo is predictably brilliant, an airy version for the album capitalising on its strong reputation, while Radarz has a similar open air feel, powered largely by a two chord progression on the piano.

Boyce’s beats are reassuringly solid throughout, with tracks like Olive Groves ideally paced and structured. Face Down introduces some sharper tones, while the flowing piano on Kitui has an end of day warmth, with the poolside beckoning. Anywhere Here, the last of the dozen, is arguably the best with its probing melody.

Does it all work?

Yes. Boyce stretches his 12 tracks over 80 minutes and structures them like a DJ set, so the peaks and troughs are beautifully managed, with an assured selection of beats and grooves that keep their vitality throughout.

Is it recommended?

It is, provided you bolster your Gavin Boyce collection with a selection of mixes from the singles he’s already released on Nordic Trax. Anywhere Here shows off his prowess as an album artist though, capable of keeping the floor full as the dozen tracks take us on a journey filled with strong, colourful grooves. All Boyce needs to do now is make sure he doesn’t leave it another two decades for the next one!

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You can listen to clips from the album and purchase Anywhere Here on Beatport