Leron Carson, The Red Lightbulb Theory

[Sound Signature]

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Though “Red Lightbulb Theory” has been charted by, among others, Lawrence and Tama Sumo, and comes “highly recommended” at nearly every vinyl outlet, one wonders if anyone besides Theo Parrish, whose Sound Signature label put the record out, and Omar-S, who is credited with engineering and editing work, knows just who the hell Leron Carson is. Dude has the sparsest Discogs entry I’ve ever seen, with only one previous release listed: the B-side of SS012, “The 1987 EP,” which featured his (almost literally) hypnotic “China Trax” along with Parrish’s “Insane Asylum.” Apparently, the five tracks on this two-record set come from the same sessions as “China Trax” — recorded when Carson was fifteen years old. In Parrish’s own words, this music was “hand made, meaning no sequencing was used for the keys on any of the songs featured, using cassette tape overdubs — a lost science.”

“Lost science,” indeed. This release feels like an artifact of ancient technology, one of those primitive contraptions in sci-fi movies that does things none of the modern scientists can figure out. Appropriately, the fidelity on the record is marred by tape hiss and distortion; whether this sounds thrillingly raw or unacceptably amateur depends on the listener’s sympathies and the context (a Theo Parrish DJ set comes to mind). As for the music itself, produced by this precocious teenager during the later years of Chicago house’s golden age, it may surprise you. While the scene’s music was at its maximum pH level, a year after Phuture’s debut, Carson’s sound was an almost polar opposite of acid’s aggressive squelch. This EP’s A1 track, “Mechanism,” opens the record by epitomizing its aesthetic principles: minimalism, dissonance, and textural complexity. Its almost unchanging bass line — an occasional key modulation keeps it from crossing the line of boredom — lays the groundwork for a meticulous exploration of the rhythmic potentialities of house’s eternal 4/4.

“The Unknown,” a high-speed, atonal banger, is hard enough to demonstrate that Detroit’s influence on Chicago in the late 80’s had become just as profound as its inverse. “Dedicated” is a more subtle take on the same vibe, with a boogie-funk drum roll tempering its attack. It seems at first to take a page from Kenny Dixon’s playbook with the gratuitous crowd noise, but close listening reveals this is the sound of Martin Luther King Jr.’s introduction at the 1964 March On Washington. With all the controversy today over politically-charged deep house voiceovers, “Dedication” offers a compelling historical precedent. “China II” is, appropriately, a reprise of “China Trax,” with its melodically and tonally modulating melody reminiscent of Steve Poindexter’s “Computer Madness.” The title track closes out the set with its most surprising, and most contemporary cut. “Red Lightbulb” matches a floating pad to a dubby bass, with the most melodic and rhythmic variation of any track on the record. It proves that this record is no museum piece. If used with care, its components sound as good today as anything that came out this year.

Will Lynch  on November 5, 2009 at 10:42 AM

great one… sort of regret not picking it up at dope jams last weekend

Joe H  on November 5, 2009 at 11:53 AM

What a great record! The background piano from the first stream has similarities to the piano from Rhythm On The Loose – “Break of Dawn”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ev3_fZzRoqQ

Per Silverbeat  on November 5, 2009 at 3:24 PM

Excellent record. Ordered it blind after reading so many good write ups on it and am certainly not disappointed.

Chris Burkhalter  on November 5, 2009 at 4:32 PM

Super record, and a solid write-up. High-fives all around!

peder  on November 5, 2009 at 6:50 PM

incredible, mindblowing record. and a review to match. high fives indeed!

erki  on November 14, 2009 at 8:53 AM

very very very good, such an amazing record! i am stunned and i want it. thanks for the nice review.

James  on May 2, 2011 at 4:19 PM

I emailed FXHE to ask Omar-S himself. While he’s handled my orders in the past, I got an email back from “PIRU DETROIT” who told me that Leron Carson’s real name is F.M. Bradley.

A Google search has given me nothing, though.


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