K-S.H.E., Routes Not Roots

[Skylax Recordings]

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What skeletons lurk inside of house music? Few styles of music are as associated with parties as house, and yet its history is full of tragedy. Late 80’s inner-city life, Reaganomics, the AIDS epidemic, and more all serve to remind us that house didn’t emerge out of a vacuum but out of a very specific time and place, one full of excitement as well as heartbreak. “House isn’t so much a sound as a situation,” Terre Thaemlitz reminded listeners on his 2008 album Midtown 120 Blues, wherein she reminded a new generation of house producers and aficionados, those who weren’t around for the genre’s formative days, of the context in which house was born. A couple years before Midtown 120 Blues Thaemlitz explored similar themes under the name K-S.H.E. (Kami-Sakunobe House Explosion) for the project Routes Not Roots, released on his own Comatonse Recordings. Given its relative scarcity and the popularity of Midtown 120 Blues, French label Skylax saw fit to reissue the album, something for which we should all be grateful.

Whereas Midtown 120 Blues focused on Disney’s buy-out of 42nd Street and Madonna’s wholesale hijacking of vogue culture (among other things), Routes Not Roots concerns itself primarily with the issues of sexual identity. These themes manifest themselves as found sources, the narration of a transgendered Japanese person (“Saki-chan Pt.1/2”) and a monologue about Terre’s own rough experience with some queens on the subway. As with everything that Thaemlitz does, it’s an album that asks you to think about the sounds you are hearing, the messages you are receiving and the context in which you’re hearing it all.

But what about the music? To be blunt, it’s pretty stellar. It offers immaculately produced deep house that retains a very rugged, almost abrasive feeling. “Down Home Kami-Sakunobe” combines propulsive rhythms and lush backgrounds with upright bass lines, stabbing pianos, and dejected violins, while “Hobo Train'”s crushing hi-hat onslaught and guitar strumming set the stage upon which a found source speaks out about the falling of wages and lack of opportunities for work. “Double Secret” is the most sweetly-melodic of the tracks here, using Terre’s own voice atop the kind of more modern, reduced house that reared its head on Midtown 120 Blues.

These are just a handful of the many treats that Routes Not Roots has to offer, from expansive, slick house jams (“B2B”) to meditative electro-acoustic pieces (“Head (In My Private Lounge, My Pad)”). Rare is the house album that seems to moonlight as a dissertation as well, but Thaemlitz never lets the heady bits of her work distract from the music on offer. The word “roots” is so often employed in house music that at some point it loses its meaning. In our culture obsessed with authenticity, with having “been there at the beginning,” with sticking to one’s roots, Thaemlitz elegantly shows that it’s not these roots that unite us but rather our common experiences. After listening to Routes Not Roots one has certainly shared in an experience.

ryan  on June 9, 2011 at 12:43 PM

Terre can do no wrong. Fantastic album.

ripa  on June 10, 2011 at 12:29 PM

white stone in house history!

sonic_e  on June 10, 2011 at 2:58 PM

The sample tracks are not working……..just endlessly buffering :-(

littlewhiteearbuds  on June 10, 2011 at 3:52 PM

Samples are working fine for us, might have to do with your computer or connection more than the samples. If they load but don’t start, try nudging them on in the player to get them moving.


Little White Earbuds August Charts 2011 | Little White Earbuds  on September 5, 2011 at 12:05 AM

[…] Dozzy, “Giusy” [Time To Express] 08. Tin Man, “Love Sick” [Salon] 09. Terre Thaemlitz, “Hobo Train” [Comatonse] 10. QX-1, “Love Injection (Inject Me Love Mixx)” [Rhythm Beat]Anton Kipfel […]

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