“Tool” is almost exclusively used dismissively in dance music criticism, but must every track hold up unlayered, unmixed, or otherwise isolated? Some brilliant club tunes deserve your headphoned attention, but I think we critics sometimes lose sight of where classic moments in dance music occur — on the floor, with a deft selector manning the decks. Toronto’s Stuart Li, known in grimy house music circles as Basic Soul Unit, has become a DJ’s favorite for the very reason many of us might usually click the skip button: save his “Panorama Bar 02 | Part I” A-side, “Things Pass” from this fall, which found Li in veritable anthem mode, they’re unabashedly tracky. While Basic Soul Unit’s recent “Basic Necessity EP” for New Kanada might not contain a DJ’s main event, its contents provide the sort of sinews that hold great sets together, bridging the gap between the energy of one showcase track and the next.
While the “Basic Necessity EP” skews minimal in its composition, its sound palate stands firmly in the American old school, grabbing liberally from squelchy Chicago house and reduced Detroit techno. Li has kept the good vibes confined to Maurice Fulton-friendly opener “Hope.Unity.Vision,” where perky, ascending bass eggs on hyperactive hi-hats for close to eight minutes. I could have done without the sampled platitudes that give this track its title, but when dissonant synths bite their way through all this positivity, I’m suddenly willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. For my money, though, B-side wins this slab big. Basic Soul Unit may have sent another track to Ostgut Ton this year, but “Basic Necessity” could easily have been its substitute. Deep bass and dark acid flourishes gallop toward morning, pausing only for momentary clangs you’d imagine ripping through the most far-flung of warehouses. Slower but with as healthy a dollop of bass-bin dread, “Rhythm No. 1″ took a few listens for me to warm up to, but its stuttering drums and melodic ambiguity have finally revealed themselves to be another excellent trick up my sleeve. As a critic, I found that my appreciation of the “Basic Necessity EP,” if not of Basic Soul Unit in general, greatly increased once I took my headphones off, clicked on my second turntable, and started working these jams into my regular rotation. Home listeners beware: this one is marked “Club Use Only.”