When you describe a track as “deep house,” what are you referring to? Presently the most common answer is a specific sound, one characterized by Rhodes (minor) chord stabs, mellow, hand-drummed grooves, and flecks of diva vocals or preacher a cappellas. The description has some merit, especially when applied to contemporary “deep house,” but I’ve always felt it leaves out a crucial aspect: depth. When music has depth — a wealth of elements and multiple layers of complexity — there’s so much more to hold dear, to relate to, to appreciate. It takes time to fully appreciate deep music’s density and the interplay between its range of sounds, as well as its impact from a big picture perspective. Depth alone is not enough to make music enjoyable or of high quality, but a deftly executed, bountiful song stands out widely from the pack. Listening to “Rushing to Paradise,” the debut single from Brooklyn’s House Of House, I get the sense its creators (Olivier Spencer of Still Going/Manthraxx and Saheer Umar) share my passion for depth in deep house.
Take for example their 13-minute long opus, “Rushing to Paradise (Walkin’ These Streets).” Seeds of tension are sown from the onset in a fine synthy mist that swells into robust, sawing waves. Roving piano leads drizzle down like silvery teardrops, leading the way into a thicket of crowd noise samples, tinny pings, rolling hand percussion and tambourine shakes, each in different fidelities, simultaneously pushing forward and reaching back into the past. The song takes an anthemic turn as the piano playing becomes bluesy (and closely reminiscent of Celestial Choir’s “Stand On the Word”), and at last Umar’s expressive, lamenting vocals pour forth. “Walking these streets so long / ‘Cause I need somebody else,” he cries, having “treated my love so wrong.” And yet he remains resilient, assuring listeners and himself, “I’m gonna be alright.” His striking performance evokes nostalgia for the impassioned lyrics of yesteryear without recycling the past. It’s also surprisingly short-lived; a move which maintains the emotional impact that might have otherwise been diluted in subsequent repetitions. “Rushing” charges to a close on the back of children’s soaring vocals, its elements peeling away as carefully as they were applied. Like a life experience, a song this thoroughly composed, this filled with sound and sentiment, leaves an indelible mark in listeners’ memories.
The flipside, “The Rough Half (Don’t Stop),” finds House Of House’s songcraft and propensity for depth extending into more pop-oriented sounds and structures. The pair again gradually introduce instruments, but allow the payoff to arrive much sooner and sweeter than on the epic A-side. Its swaying bass notes, tumbling toms and ramshackle piano chords set a heavier tempo while reverberating guitar licks lighten the mood. Umar’s treated pipes burst onto the scene alongside effervescent synth melodies, urging dancers and DJs, “Don’t stop the pressure / release the pleasure.” Opting for a bridge – which hangs on one note and hissing vocals – rather than a breakdown, HoH allow the tension to well back up. And when the floodgates reopen, a fuzzy and frenetic guitar solo rides the ensuing wave to the end – one of the few times in recent memory a guitar solo has added so much to a dance track. As with the whole of the A-side, it’s indicative of Spencer and Umar’s exacting discretion in choosing quantities and types of sounds, coupled with a remarkable sense of pacing. In other producers’ hands, tunes this thick and thorough could be a mess; in theirs, “Rushing to Paradise” is a stunning, soulful exploration of what it means to make deep house music in 2009.