Julius Steinhoff, So Glad

[Smallville Records]

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Julius Steinhoff’s first solo EP for Smallville — yes, really — sees him continue the aesthetic the label has been pushing for close to six years now. But if the Hamburg-based imprint he co-owns is known for its particularly refined brand of house, in recent years I’ve noticed that even when compared to its pivotal records, Steinhoff’s own creations seem auspiciously sleek. In “So Glad,” it’s almost comical how quickly this fact is established. The song’s first bar lasts for just a second or so, but introduces a majority of the important elements: a ducking bass line, rasping hi-hats and a single meditative piano chord, similar to that found in Smallpeople’s “And You And You.” Though these blocks are simple and common-sounding, Steinhoff makes them seem otherwise by dint of sheer cleanliness and effective arrangement. Later, when he adds a more obvious hook — gloomy blobs of melody — and extra percussion, they can feel more like embellishment than real├é┬ánecessities.

“Slow Movement” is similarly elemental. Though it has little to do with actual filter house, I can’t help but feel the tag is somewhat appropriate. Its twanging bass motif never deviates from the same seven notes, but through alternately flattening, expanding or gradually changing color, things stay interesting throughout. It’s not the best track Steinhoff’s ever done, but nor is it the tedious mess it might have been in the hands of another producer. “All of a Sudden” takes a more delicate tack, pairing resonant, wide-ranging bass with a sandy shaker and dainty bells. As in “So Glad,” it’s surprising how much emotion is evoked by a melody that doesn’t actually do anything other than just loop sparsely. The record’s final track, “Speak No Evil,” might be the best example of the incredible refinement I alluded to earlier. It’s the kind of smooth, pad-led house that should sound tired and played out; muzak-y, even. However, like 2011’s Out In The Woods EP, its transportative power sweeps away all these jaded notions. Perhaps, like me, you’ve recently begun questioning how much longer Smallville can keep usefully refining house without significantly altering the template. Judging by So Glad, I’d say the answer is at least a few more records yet.

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