Joshua Iz, It Iz What It Iz

[Vizual Records]

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Although he’s spent a lot of time in California over the years, it is Chicago that rings through Joshua Michael’s music most clearly. Born in the home of house music but raised in San Jose, Iz (as he later become known) forged solid friendships with key Chicago luminaries at a young age; indeed, his very first release was on the essential Prescription imprint, with more closely following on Guidance and Classic. Nearly fifteen years and several dozen EPs since his first release he has finally committed his musical vision to long form on his own Vizual label with the result showing just why he has remained in demand for so long. Though history has shown Iz to be more than comfortable with the medium of 12″ and EP releases he tackles the album format with ease; because for what is essentially a collection of dance floor tracks, It Iz What It Iz flows with all the peaks and valleys of an artist album.

Elements of Joshua’s early inspirations can be found via tinges of reggae in the title track, with a bass melody closely resembling Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” fitting snugly in the groove of the slowly arpeggiating, clean synth lines. Long time partner Diz provides the rich, honeyed vocal for the track, adding to the already tender vibe. Other instances of Joshua’s early influences can be found throughout the album too. He taps into downbeat, dub and ragga on the only track that feels out of place on the album, the downbeat “We Control” featuring MC and long time friend and Jamalski, whose braggadocios toast feels worlds away from the rest of the mainly house based material. “The Bells” is the only other downbeat moment, but unlike “We Control,” it feels like an appropriately nuanced interlude, bright and brassy synths languidly stretching out over a lazy bass line and a mid tempo breakbeat.

The album is foremost focused on house with elements of techno. It’s not all new content, with the title track, “Alpha & Omega” and two other cuts all appearing elsewhere before in various guises. The high wire strings on “Earthrise (Moon Mix),” evoke the early days of Detroit techno but in more of a relaxed, unhurried fashion. The track initially turned up on his Vizual Rydims #2 EP, but I find the subtle, ethereal nature of the Moon Mix to be better suited to the album format. The dub house groover “Deep Space Pressure,” also originally from the same EP, gets three minutes trimmed off for the album, though even with the shorter edit is still an outstanding, kinetic track. Of the new tracks there are also many highlights, with “Ewall” hitting the late night vibe perfectly with a dreamy haze of shimmering synths, cascading marimbas and deeply wrought bass.

There is a good balance struck between the deeper house cuts and more techno oriented, with equilibrium also between heavier hitting dance floor cuts and more introspective, cranial seducers. “Sea of Vapours” and “Flower Sparks” both fall under the dance floor banner, with the former meting out a steady pulse of analog synths, sounding like a more purposeful, laconic version of Spirit Catcher’s “Voo Doo Knight,” while the latter ticks all the right boxes for its use of evolving, filtered chords, hypnotic groove and punchy but simplistic percussion. Deeper moments come courtesy of the Chez Damier featured vocal on “Sentimental Love,” and the Jungle Brothers sampling closer “What Planet?”, both tracks shining examples of the masterful strokes with which Iz paints his house productions.

A constant theme on the album is the use of arpeggio rhythms and it’s something Joshua knows how to do well, using it several times in a controlled, understated way that never approaches over indulgence. It is something that helps tie the album together, a familiar presence throughout the twelve tracks that gives shape to the work as a whole. Unlike the current strains of modern day house, whose producers search to tap in to the spirit of Chicago and Detroit by studying the form and padding their tracks with digital dust for an authentic feel, Joshua heads in the other direction by utilizing clean, polished sounds. But through the burnished gleam of his productions, his musical origins shine through regardless. With It Iz What It Iz, Joshua collates the ideas and feelings that have helped him remain an important part of house music for so long while giving listeners plenty of reasons to continue to follow his account of the genre.

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