Rick Wilhite, Analog Aquarium

[Still Music]


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Authenticity plays a major role in the career of a musician. Those who remain true to themselves and their artistic vision are generally regarded in higher esteem even though they often may not receive the recognition or attention they deserve. A perfect example of this would be Rick Wilhite, the Detroit producer otherwise known as The Godson, one quarter of 3 Chairs, and one of the most underrated producers out there, who despite releasing exceptional house music for the past fifteen years is nowhere near the household name of his 3 Chairs contemporaries. This lack of public awareness is tempered by the critical acclaim Wilhite receives, and the release of his first album proper should go further to addressing that balance.

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A vocal proponent of keeping a sense of tradition and humanity about his music, whether it is a DJ set or in his productions, Wilhite refuses to be tempted by the digital trappings of so-called convenience that have come to proliferate electronic music culture in the past ten years. To that end, Analog Aquarium is as you’d expect it to be: an album made entirely on analogue equipment that sounds all at once a timeless classic and futuristic. Wilhite even adds his own vocal and beatbox effects to the tracks, as he has explained he often uses his own voice to emulate various drum sounds and synths. Though four of the tracks from the album did recently get released on the Japanese branch of Jerome Derradji’s Still Music, for all intents this is all new material.

The strength of feeling in Wilhite’s expression is felt from the very first track, as Osunlade and Theo Parrish help him to re-interpret The Jackson 5’s “Blame It On The Boogie,” overhauling the disco classic with breathtaking finesse. The plucked funk guitar, burned out bass and mirage-like keys circle each other with a mesmerizing ardor, with Billy Love improvising large parts of the vocals and taking them to a higher realm. “Dark Walking” with Marcellus Pittman is lush, deep house that in many other hands would sound too formulaic, but the overlapping high hats, deep rubbery bass and evenly balanced keys all tie together with a dreamy, effortless grace.

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The album as a whole is incredibly strong, but with repeated listening you get the sense it’s anchored by the vocal tracks, like opener “Blame It On The Boogie,” “Muzic Gonna Save The World” and “In The Rain.” In each case it is vocalist Billy Love who helps to make these tracks, also going a long way to give the album the personality that it has. That said, the vocals on “Muzic Gonna Save The World” are jointly provided by Sondra “SunnyB” Biar, whose voice cuts through the muddy, bottom end of the deeply pulsing, mid-tempo house cut, lifting it up out of the mire of almost subliminal funk. The instrumental tracks carry serious weight too, “Sunshine Pt. 2” holding elements of Ron Trent’s “Altered States” in its brooding bass line, while “Deep Horizons” is summery, breezy house with flourishes of Latin percussion accented by minor piano keys.

Wilhite wears his influences on his sleeve on Analog Aquarium, showing just how closely related house, funk, boogie and techno are when seen through his Motor City eyes. The majority of the album is a mixture of the first of those three elements, but when Wilhite shifts into techno mode, it’s an unforced transition for the album. The moody, late night vibes of “Cosmic Jungle” are simplistic with only three or four sounds being used to create the feeling of narcotic unease, but no less effective for it. Sitting somewhere between Omar-S and Lowtec, it provides one of the two proper techno moments on the album, the other being the sparse, percussive-led “Cosmic Soup,” essentially a raw drum track with meager detailing around the edges.

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But the lasting impression of the album and indeed why it grabs a hold of you is the very human swing of the tracks that no computer could have replicated; the rich, resonance of higher frequencies pushing through vintage compression, the obfuscated rhythms and melodies that lie half submerged under the pillowy low-end. These things mark the difference between a record that is hot for a minute and one that can be taken down off the shelf after twenty years and still stand up against the current wave. It is not something that can be mimicked or fluked, it is the primordial spirit, funk or soul that has inhabited the best of black music throughout the ages and one that is writ large all over Analog Aquarium.

Blaktony  on May 10, 2011 at 10:46 AM

Niceness from “The GODSON”….soulful D-town vibe.

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