Various Artists, Twentyfour Ways

[Smallville]


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The problem with making music that closely follows someone else’s rules is that invariably, the impressionable producer will also be subject to someone else’s imposed boundaries. Because the rules have been drawn up by a third party, it’s near impossible for the followers to navigate their way through pre-existing nuances and subtleties. The end result is music defined more by its limitations than its artistic achievements, compositions that are disappointingly two-dimensional and characterless. Unfortunately, it’s a phenomenon audible across the spectrum of house and techno. For example, a good portion of modern deep house from Europe suffers from the fact that it tries to emulate the legacy of artists like Ron Trent and Chez Damier, but in too closely following their productions sounds half-baked, like a graying Xerox of a fine charcoal print.

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While Hamburg label Smallville Records has largely avoided such slavishly unquestioning behavior thanks to judicious A&Ring and a deep techno-focused approach, there are warning signs on Twentyfour Ways. In particular, Benjamin Brunn’s “Queen Mary” sounds stale, as a dubby backing rhythm plays host to spaced-out but somewhat irritating stabs. There is nothing inherently wrong with “Queen,” but it sounds so faceless and devoid of identity it’s not reflective of Brunn’s impressive catalog. Despite this blip, Twentyfour Ways largely succeeds in navigating its own path. Christopher Rau’s “Like Yesterday” could just as easily be yet another tasteful but anemic paean to Larry Heard, but the producer shows he has flair as tinkling Rhodes keys nestle up to raw, at times doubled up beats inspired by NY garage dubs. Rau also provides the release’s “biggest” track. Working in collaboration with the Smallpeople trio, “Unke” revolves around a drummy rhythm and a sexy, insistent filter that pushes into fist-raising breakdowns and drops. But tellingly, for the EP’s highlight, there is a return to an approach more typical of Smallville. C-Beams’ “One” skirts the reflective highways fashioned by Derrick May’s “Icon” and Landcruising-era Craig, infused with a yelping acid line from Phuture. In spite of its robust 303, “One” is a triumph for introspection, with the hushed melodies unfolding over a stop-start rhythm. Smallville has always shone when it’s forged its own path and this proves to be the case on Twentyfour Ways. It’s a lesson its peers should heed.

kuri  on September 23, 2011 at 12:57 PM

I’ve been tempted to pick this up for the C-Beams track alone. They have managed to shine bright on this and also that Uncanny Valley v/a 12″. Can’t wait for a full C-Beams release to appear.

Nick  on September 24, 2011 at 9:31 PM

C-Beams have a solo record coming out very soon; Uncanny Valley 004.

Nick  on September 24, 2011 at 10:11 PM

Whoops, 006 I mean.

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