Osborne, Osborne

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[Spectral Sound]

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Todd Osborn is a born tinkerer, a guy who wants nothing more than to crack open the nearest electronic device to see how it works and, if possible, how to improve it. The trait is essential in his stint as an airline mechanic and at home, where he dissects computers, software, synthesizers (which he repairs for a notable international clientèle), hovercraft and anything else he cares to learn about. Osborn approaches music with the same intense curiosity and creative drive as evinced on Osborne, his self-titled, debut full length for Spectral Sound. The 15 track album flips through dance music history like a pile of 12″s, chooses the most enticing templates and offers Osborn’s own compelling take. “I can do that!” indeed.

(Download “Outta Sight” from Osborne after the jump.)

Osborne is a rough compendium of tracks dating back to 2003, some of which have been released previously (“Afrika,” “Outta Sight” and all four of the “Ruling EP” tunes) while the majority are exclusives. The diversity of its sounds and structures is a testament to Osborn’s aranging abilities and broad taste. Despite languishing on hard drives for years, even the oldest tracks sound fresh and fitting for today’s musical climate. Those hungry for soulful deep house will have their arms aloft for the stunning “Ruling” and “Downtown,” while newfound tribal enthusiasts will thrive under the chunky hand drumming and chants of “Afrika.” Tracks such as “Air Pistol,” “Detune” and “Fresh” tread the border of techno and electronica, often with liberal doses of bright melody and a strong percussive backbone. Osborn also indulges the acid urges first explored with Todd Mullinix as TNT on “Evenmore” and “Junk Food,” nodding to Luke Vibert as his 303s churn and squelch. Credit is also due to Spectral Sounds’ founder, Sam Valenti IV, for selecting and sequencing the best Osborne tracks in a logical, narrative fashion.

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Unlike projects by other hyper smart producers, Osborne emphasizes how much fun its creator had crafting its contents rather than a heavy-handed concept or overly academic programming. “Our Definition of a Breakdown,” Osborn’s playful collaboration with Ed DMX, is a perfect example. The long time friends are heard laughing and jeering as they build and narrate the old school electro jam, complete with jaunty synth stabs, digital claps and keyboard-generated vinyl scratches. While “Our Definition” is a touch goofy, others simply avoid being too serious: “Air Pistol” and “Fresh” soften the oscillating growl of their low end with soothing synth tones; “5th Stage” and “16th Stage” are warm-hearted synth workouts, the latter’s vocals greet incoming listeners while toasting “the sun.” Other tunes head right to the dance floor for their kicks, like the rhapsodic “Ruling” and piano-heavy “Outta Sight.” Listeners will reach for Osborne when they have something to celebrate, when they need a dose of positive vibes or for satisfying a non-electronic audience, as its breadth of styles and ear-catching sounds transcend usual biases.

Download: Osborne, “Outta Sight”

The foundation of Todd’s productions are often finely tuned tones rather than grids of percussion; this focus gives each tune a richness that endears even the most unfamiliar song structures to listeners. Rhodes electric piano (or its attendant synth patch) is splashed across much of the album, as is a battery of vintage 808/909 drum timbres. One of the lushest tracks is Detroit-influenced “Downtown,” which balances the harder piano hook on the back of an unctuous, oscillating bass groove to a sublime effect. “Fresh” finds a familiar Osborne tone ricocheting dub-like across bow of flute-led swells, as “Detune” unleashes a careening keyb run on otherwise placid pads. Even rougher edged tunes like “Junk Food” and the Mullinix co-produced “L8” are well-developed if spiky treats.

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Admittedly, some of the album’s electronica-leaning portions did not sink in for me at the same rate as his floor ready pieces, largely because I expected more of the latter. But Osborne kept me coming back, interest piqued enough to let Todd Osborn’s painstaking assembled songs reveal their convivial qualities between sing-a-longs to “Ruling,” “Outta Sight” and “Afrika.” It’s an album reflective of Todd’s unending drive to explore the unexplored, to make things better while having a great time doing so. It also suggests a bright future in music still lies ahead of him — if he can find the time to tinker with it. (post by Steve Mizek)

tom/pipecock  on May 19, 2008 at 8:08 PM

osborne is one of the few white guy detroiters who really gets it right on the techno and house tip. i have been banging on “afrika”, “outta sight” and now the ruling EP, i am pumped to hear some more…..

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