John Roberts, Fences

[Dial]

In the three years since he released Glass Eights, John Roberts’ sound has gotten both stronger and prettier. While his earlier tracks explored plucked timbres and wintry melodies over a rough-hewn bed of samples, Fences is more lightly and expertly executed, ditching easy signifiers of “deepness” to focus on tinkering with his own musical language. Lawrence remains the quintessential Dial producer, but Roberts is its most aspirational: he consolidates the label’s love of deep house chunkiness and its classical pretensions into a sprightly, spring-loaded sound. Fences is more than just a welcome expansion to the label’s vocabulary. It’s as if some musical Gallagher took a sledgehammer to a bunch of Mr. Fingers, koto, classical, and Häpna records and Roberts refashioned the fragments in his own image.

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You wouldn’t mistake Fences for anything other than a John Roberts album, yet a direct comparison with Glass Eights makes clear how far the musician has come. Roberts has always had a way with samples, and he wields them potently here, building both club-ready tracks and contemplative interludes out of a crumbly assortment of woody, plucked strings, rain-warped synths, and chunky drum hits. It’s busy but never crowded — like Japanese carpentry, the samples fit perfectly through sheer craftsmanship rather than nails. Fences is sonically brighter and less outwardly moody than Glass Eights, but it’s denser with ideas and differently evocative. At points, Roberts inverts his crystalline arrangements, making us dig for the melodic and textural interest. “Mussels”‘ stiff beat seems torpid, but its surface wonkiness clears a space for the producer to endlessly reconfigure the song’s piping flute samples, indulging his typical elegance under a vaguely awkward veneer. The equally uncategorizable “Shoes” also takes a beat that almost buckles under its own wallop and chases it with streamers of pitch-bent synths and an aching, reverb-laden piano line.

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The album’s dancier cuts, on the other hand, are loaded with a coiled, barely contained energy. “Palace” is the apotheosis of the stop-start style Roberts explored on his Paper Frames EP. Moving blindingly quick and with synchronized kaleidoscopic grace, it’s stylistically consistent with and yet as distant from that 2012 release as it is from his debut. There’s nothing as classily anthemic as “Porcelain” on Fences, but “Blanket” sustains an especially intense vibe. The song’s synth-horn/string figure goes hard over vinyl crackle–pocked bass drum. Still more stray piano notes wander far out — not to DJ Sprinkles levels, but the melody gets involved enough to be the closest thing to a drop you’ll find here. Roberts delivers us back to the song in a wide arc, and there’s an almost breathtaking feeling of renewal. “Blanket” might also work so well because it sounds like the illest RPG soundtrack of all time condensed into dance-music form.

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Fences is funkier, if not deeper than its predecessor, not only because of its clenching syncopation — “Plaster” actually brings overt boogie overtones to Roberts’ usual arsenal of staccato hats and twining orchestral noises. The only real callback to Glass Eights is the title track’s ricocheting hi-hat sound, which quotes “Porcelain.” The setting is once again much more active here, a flurry of textures and melodies twitching with clockwork precision that’s far from sterile. John Roberts fits in nicely with Dial’s established aesthetic, but Fences sets him apart — not just from the label’s roster, but from the vast majority of his peers. It’s rare enough to find a producer who inhabits a world as unique as Roberts’, and rarer to see them continue to develop according to a very personal but accessible logic. Nobody else’s music feels like John Roberts’. With a debut as fully inhabited as Glass Eights, Fences doesn’t have much room for improvement. But its fine-tuning is focused and succinct, casually leading us somewhere genuinely unexpected and brilliant. These details take time to sink in. With Fences, the process is always deeply pleasurable and, with startling frequency, sublime.

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Little White Earbuds July Charts 2013 | Little White Earbuds  on August 3, 2013 at 9:57 AM

[…] Guestlist” [Icee Hot]Nick Connellan 01. Marcel Fengler, “Jaz” [Ostgut Ton] 02. John Roberts, “Shoes” [Dial] 03. Holy Garage, “Diver Down” [Running Back] 04. Fisherman, “Black […]

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