John Roberts, Glass Eights

[Dial Records]

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One of many reasons why house music fans return to the genre’s founding documents so frequently is because they were created without rules or expectations. With only disco and new wave in their rear view mirrors, most early house producers had nothing to conform to and subsequently pushed their sounds and rhythms in every possible direction; it’s why so many of those records still sound remarkably fresh and relevant. But while many contemporary producers are content to inject “old school” signifiers into their slick productions, few dare to defy conventional thinking and draw outside the lines. From his first EP for Dial Records, John Roberts seemed to share this limitless approach to songwriting, folding an unusually dynamic array of timbres into unexpected percussion patterns that read as house almost incidentally. On Glass Eights, his debut album, Roberts embodies the unrestrained creativity of house music progenitors while offering an aesthetic that is wholly his own.

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The tools and production methods Roberts uses are largely the same as those used by his peers and even house music’s forefathers: his sonic tapestry of vintage synths and drum machines, piano, and various string instruments is woven together with a steady if inconspicuous thread of samples. But besides a reverence for house music’s 4×4 time signature there’s little else tying the ten tracks on Glass Eights to any period in the genre’s past or present. What’s immediately evident is how much care Roberts poured into recording and processing each element, resulting in spine-tingling piano lines, radiant synth strains and phantasmal drones that are singular to his songs. His arrangements are equally well considered, affording melodies and Dance Mania-influenced rhythm patterns the clever timing and ample space required to resonate and compliment their surroundings. The album is propulsive and catchy enough to serve as grist for dance floors but so luxuriously detailed and cohesive it’s most rewarding when heard from start to finish.

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Although Roberts proved capable of pulling off ambitious compositions on earlier tracks like “Pruned,” which appears on the album, Glass Eights is a bold step forward for the American-born, Berlin-based producer. Where earlier tracks dazzled listeners with canny drum programming and a few dabs of tone color, the album finds Roberts’ just as shrewd at writing memorable melodies and adding vivid synth vamps. On album opener “Lesser” he tangles a flurry of plucked tones around grainy piano chords that lift the mood and grow luminescent. Organ chords gyrate and flicker behind the cascading drum rolls of “Dedicated,” their tone growing sore as the progressions become restless. From its bed of primeval drones to the smeared tones rushing to keep up with warbling organ pitches, “Porcelain” feels like being pulled backwards through time as memories undo themselves in front of you. After the elegiac piano sonata, “Went” (co-written by Carson Chan), the title track concludes the album on a hopeful note, padding the dance floor in balmy notes and ringing piano runs for the delicate, swooping movements of a cello solo.

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Perhaps the greatest success of Glass Eights is how Roberts places his songs in specific contexts that add flavor and purpose. He overtly references the vinyl listening experience through dusty crackles and on “August” bends the opening pitches as if someone had placed their finger on the record, making the medium part of the message. Backwards threaded progressions appear on several tracks as well, but never so effectively as on “Navy Blue.” The way its retrograde opening snaps into focus with the addition of deftly placed claps and slams into gear upon the kick drum’s arrival is brilliant, unexpected, and only the preface of a stunning track. “Ever Or Not” conveys a sense of place when its seductive piano chords ripple outward and evoke the serenity of a vast, empty room. By rooting Glass Eights in distinct contexts rather than historical nostalgia, Roberts imparted a timelessness sure to have artists and admirers revisiting the album for years to come.

Pinker than thou  on October 12, 2010 at 1:46 PM

Have only listened through once, but this album sounds really really good.

peder  on October 12, 2010 at 5:12 PM

as bubba sparxxx didn’t quite say, “your album droppin this autumn? that sucks for you!” great great record, and nice desert boots also

todd  on October 12, 2010 at 5:41 PM

‘juno records – out of stock’ already??

Anton  on October 12, 2010 at 9:07 PM

I have to admit, my local shop was even out of this. The wait was long but worth it and people know it. I can hardly wait to get my vinyl copy.

eric  on October 12, 2010 at 9:20 PM

album of the year, any genre

deepbeetzz  on October 13, 2010 at 3:16 AM

I felt compelled to post, as any electonic music fan should in regards to this album. WOW. Strikes that perfect middle ground where long time club and party participants can find a grove and a bassline to make them move, and long time electronic music fans can slap on some cans, light a j and enjoy what John Roberts in asking you. Best breakthrough album, well since the last best breakthrough album on Dial (efdemin, pantha du prince, pawas, lawrence, etc etc)

pablo/beaner  on October 13, 2010 at 1:54 PM

amazing record, amazing producer. unique voice in a sea of copies.

Blaktony  on October 13, 2010 at 3:18 PM

Very,very nice indeed…. the 3 reviewed here do it (4 me)….they cross boundries of the electronic music spectrum well,if the whole album sounds like these, i better get my loot out right now (wow).

Ben  on October 13, 2010 at 11:11 PM

agreed. very impressed with this. it’s got that soul.

Franz Adam Brenner  on October 14, 2010 at 1:06 AM

Sounds like a beautiful record, and I can’t wait to listen to it all the way through. Mr.Mizek did a wonderful job with this album review as well. Great music journalism is hard to come by these days. Well done sir.

Per Bojsen-Moller  on October 14, 2010 at 9:27 AM

Great review, stunning release.

matt  on October 14, 2010 at 10:14 AM

For some reason, the first few EPs didn’t really hit with me, but this is sounding pretty incredible.

Blaktony  on October 14, 2010 at 10:59 AM

Also very appreciative with the reviews & journalist here….my ears are welcomed every morning 2 music i might not otherwise discover on my own. Even though i should hate U because my wallet is empty from purchasing & keepin’ my internet runnin’ (i sound like an addict)LOL! Much Luv.

rubin  on October 15, 2010 at 2:02 AM

Wow, porcelain is incredible. Will be picking this up asap.

good_god  on October 15, 2010 at 1:00 PM

“as bubba sparxxx didn’t quite say, “your album droppin this autumn? that sucks for you!” great great record, and nice desert boots also”

commercially? yes. artistically? perfect. couldn’t picture this being released at any other time of the year. fall soundtrack.

Pete Srdic  on October 21, 2010 at 6:18 PM

1) John Roberts 2) Dial 3) all the fantastic reviews I’m reading – have ordered this on spec. Really look foward to it. Been a great year for Dial.


Rattle n Hum. « The Fly Life  on October 14, 2010 at 4:23 PM

[…] finishing strrongg. glass eights, a sublime bastard of a record, smokin’ & […]

In Deep #031 (7th Sept 2011) « fresh static :: olaf quintessa  on September 18, 2011 at 5:54 AM

[…] Ray, Gene Hunt and Gerd, plus the beautiful “Ever Or Not” from the John Roberts album “Glass Eights”. The pace picks up a bit in the second half of the show, with some uplifting and techy vibes from […]

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