Steven Tang, Leaving the Physical World

1959 Das Haus, Juni Ludowici Rundhaus
Photo by Juni Ludowici Rundhaus

[Smallville Records]


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It’s natural that critics would applaud the fact that it took Chicago’s Steven Tang fifteen years to sculpt his first album, Disconnect to Connect. That Smallville release is considered in the extreme, yet Tang’s style doesn’t smack of perfectionism. Stiff, soulful, retro-leaning Chicago house is his natural element. Done right, it results in a futurism unattached to a specific era, a quality many listeners found in that LP as it somersaulted between callused rhythm tracks like “Heat Burst” and the spacey jazz of “It’s Perceived as Sound.” Leaving the Physical World, his follow-up 12″ for the Hamburg label, feels a bit more limber and carefree than the full-length. When these tracks were made is a matter of speculation, but for narrative expediency’s sake let’s describe what he’s up to here as exploring ways to direct the goodwill he’s accumulated over his lengthy production career along some new tangents.

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The drum programming on the title cut evokes microhouse strategies taken to a funky extreme. Despite its echoes of Losoul and eight-minute length, it’s never as static as the reference would suggest. Gaseous string pads sound like regal fanfare cruising through interstellar space at the speed of light. This quality seems to be what distinguishes Tang’s music from your average Larry Heard impersonator: he knows how to really make you feel the distance between yearning, partial melodies and no-frills jacking on a galactic scale. “Mystic Ritual” takes shorter strides, a tightness that’s offset more by hi-hat rushes and relaxed, bubbly bongo hits than its synth work. “Reality We Make” goes back to emphasizing Tang’s strengths as a drum machine programmer, this time with a panoply of rim shots and cowbells that makes gouges in the track for a simple arpeggio to run down into. Too familiar to qualify as a departure, Leaving the Physical World makes enough novel choices to entrain us into Tang’s uniquely paced style all over again.

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