Painting by Jason Jagel
It’s widely known that pulling off a dance music full length is a difficult proposition. The cards are inherently stacked against a genre that is dictated by the quick fix that fits neatly in the mix. Juju & Jordash’s music, however, seems to be tailor made for the album format. Their productions are based ostensibly in the house/techno arena but the Amsterdam-based duo’s background playing in jazz bands and predilection for several other genres heavily inform the outcome. Live instrumentation gets mixed with keyboards, laptop and psychotropic effects resulting in unpredictable variations. In other words, what passes for a Juju & Jordash house track nary sounds like what falls under the Beatport house charts. You only have to listen to one of their Off Minor radio shows to get a feel for what goes into their own blender and comes out in a refreshingly new shape.
For having been involved as long as they have, the pair’s discography is not lengthy, but it is solid. I first discovered them through the “Blue Plates” track on Real Soon, a song that stood out for its unconventional take on house: a lumbering, syncopated rhythm and a twilight synth melody that sounded like Derrick May’s “Icon” remixed by Arthur Russell. Since then they have managed to find favor among the deep house contingent with releases on Detroit’s Aesthetic Audio and Ferrispark, as well as brief appearances on Spanish labels Deep Explorer and Minuendo. But their actual album work has come from unlikely places. Newly formed Dutch label Dekmantel is the home for Juju & Jordash and for some reason early press coverage has touted it as the duo’s debut LP, thoroughly ignoring their 2008 Major Mishap album (perhaps its digital only release on Ropeadope is to blame). Oddly enough, the two admitted to not getting fully behind it either, feeling uncomfortable about pushing an album that would never find a place on their record shelves between J.J. Johnson and Bobby Konders.
The three-track “Dekmantel EP” from earlier this year served as a mouth-wateringly limited taster for their self-titled LP, featuring a new song (“Uncle Moon”), a remix of Lerosa’s “Ruski” and one track from the album. That one track turned out to be a doozey. Named after the Vanishing Point‘s reference for cops, “Deep Blue Meanies” also shared a more fitting provenance with a potent strain of mushrooms. What starts as bleep and bass heavy house goes gloriously sideways with a breakdown of tense strings, harp and cosmic bell tones before re-emerging with an angelic fierceness. Its uniqueness proved to be just the right tonic to pique interest in Juju & Jordash.
From there the album unfolds as a loose compromise between live jam sessions and the mixing desk praxis. At times the instrumentation takes the spotlight, as on the free jazz exploration of “Jugdish.” It’s equally evident in “Niks,” where blue nosed jazz gets backed by a laconic dub rhythm that eventually succumbs to the weight of a horn skronk pile up. Even when the music takes on more solid electronic applications Juju & Jordash inject improvisation in healthy doses. “Jazzy Trance” gets points for envisioning a sonic sandwich that almost certainly does not belong on a menu: buried saxophone gets layered under a dry, thudding beat, snaking closed hi-hats and an undulating acid line before unveiling a spry, bubbling synth melody. And on “Quasi Dub” the duo take a turn as dub engineer without falling prey to parroted Jamaican standards. Neither going for roots or digital dub, Juju & Jordash simply lay down a bouncy rhythm, discordant violin melody, and chopped up patois vocals before subjecting it to the echo chamber and their own brand of suspenseful atmosphere.
The more dance floor friendly material is equally compelling. Taking aim at what could be described as Italo on “Dirty Spikes,” they come up with a white-knuckle ride of intense synth arpeggio discharges and a driving rhythm with drum programming assistance from Walter Jones. And on “Pulse a Denura” a rubbery percussion element leads a techno workout of swirling synth pulsations, pitched down vocal growls and a bass line that is equal parts Larry Heard and Jah Wobble. What may be considered the most conventional track is a remix of “Timeslip” from their second Real Soon release. When paired with a resplendent synth sheen, the track’s funkier bass line, delayed cymbal crashes and more straight-ahead rhythm, tighten up its slow-motion deep house sound.
Juju & Jordash are obviously not afraid to push the parameters on what dance music is to them and in doing so transcend easy genre classification. And that is what makes them such an exciting group and Juju & Jordash a complex and satisfying record. It may not officially be their first album, but I have a feeling it will be the one to garner them the greater attention they deserve.