Basic Soul Unit, Motional Response

[Still Music]

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It’s always interesting to see how established artists approach their first albums. Some take the opportunity to deviate from what they’ve become known for; others to further refine it. Structure-wise, some end up favoring mere inflated EPs; others as flow-concerned as Voices From The Lake’s. And of course, for a majority of artists, their subsequent albums are rarely as self-conscious or tentative. While making a memorable LP undoubtedly requires a larger set of skills than an EP, it seems as if these varied results are as much influenced by each person’s preconceived ideas about what the format should entail. Just look at Monoloc: after several years of releasing bulldozer-strength techno on 12″, the German found a sudden interest in affected, Tiga-like vocals for Drift, his debut long-player released earlier this month. Perhaps he’s always held a flame for that sort of thing? Maybe, but it seems more likely the idea of nine strident club tracks all in the one place just didn’t sit well with him.

Stuart Li — aka Basic Soul Unit — has never seemed like the kind of guy to fall into this trap. Since his earliest releases in 2003, the Canadian’s career has noticeably accelerated, throwing up records on labels like Dolly, New Kanada, Mule, Nonplus, Mathematics, Ostgut, and Philpot. Not only has Li’s output clearly been quite varied record-to-record, each single has covered surprising ground, without ever feeling desperate to do so. Thankfully, Motional Response, his debut album, sees this quality retained wholesale. There are no contrived sketches or awkward ambient interludes here. There are some vocals, however. On “Breathe,” Li’s first and only vocal track to date, the female lyrics can initially feel awkward, but as the “breathe, breathe, breathe” refrain works its way into the mix, their presence starts to feel welcome. Breathe a sigh of relief: this is the Basic Soul Unit you know and love.

Tracks like “Sandpiper” are classic Li, for instance. Contrasted with jagged synths and drums, the cut’s aqueous chords propel it forward with trademark fluidity. “All Over Me” is more straightforward, but it too fits the canon perfectly, a trilling hook and cicada-like drums of recalling tracks as distinctive as “Soulspeak” and “Flying Through The Fog.” “Clouds” does the same, this time using bouncing bloops and lively claves. Such cuts will undoubtedly sate existing BSU fans — they may be some of his best yet — and bring scores of new ones flocking to his banner. And therein lies the most important aspect of Motional Response. Excepting “Breathe,” it doesn’t offer anything we haven’t heard from Li before. However, it does slyly highlight aspects of his output which may not have been so apparent. Beginning with the fizzy “Across the Room” and arcing to the aforementioned “Sandpiper,” the LP hardens with genuine subtlety. By the time track six hits — the militant “This” — you may well find yourself wondering how you got there. Its stomping percs and needling synths aren’t too far removed from previous tracks such as “Deep Diving” and “Growing Pains,” but hearing all of Li’s various intensities congregate is like the difference between eating a magnificently prepared feast and simply having a nice steak several nights in a row.

Shifting easily back to melodic territory, the album’s last third features the pretty but strangely relentless “Mind Forest,” and an excellent closer in the beatless and ARP-riddled “Let Go.” In case you felt bruised, these two serve to soothe. Furthermore, they underline just how adroitly Li can perform at both ends of this rough/gentle spectrum. It may have taken nearly a decade to arrive, but Motional Response is everything a debut album should be. Apart from constituting both an enthralling home-listener and a DJ’s delight (seriously, just pick any track, they’ll all work), it’s true to the established BSU sound without resorting to templates. Even if there were a few unwise vocal tracks or other failed experiments included — which there aren’t — that fact alone probably would have been enough to satisfy me.

lerato  on November 29, 2012 at 3:54 AM

brilliant album


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