Back in late 2011 I wrote a piece on the swift rise of Swedish record label, Local Talk – an outfit who quickly symbolised everything that was so great about the House renaissance we’ve been privy to over the last 18 months or so.
However, fast-forward to the present day and you could say, from looking just at the surface, the House bandwagon’s looking a bit burnt out, a tad jaded, in need of a rigorous MOT and a new set of chords.
Many predicted this collapse would happen (step forward VICE’s omnipresent subculture vulture, Clive Martin for example) and watching MK cruise to number 1 in the national charts before Christmas, with a record that I remember hearing played out back in summer 2012, was perhaps the culminating cherry on the mainstream House cake. Never before has the genre been faced with so much critique and now everyone’s debating what’s cool and what’s not, so much so that the whole thing has spawned a bit of a movement in itself as the ‘real’ House heads rally together in the face of adversity.
Some people inevitably took a bit too much cake last year and, in the midst of all this rather queasy and corrosive debate around the status of House music commercialism today – ‘what is’ and ‘what isn’t’ – at the moment, it seems lots of people just get sucked into either talking about what a massive bellend Julio Bashmore is, or they get embroiled in a gnarly skirmish in the depths of YouTube’s comments section under a Disclosure video, furiously debating whether they make garage or House, or indeed both.
And what about ‘Deep House’? Let’s not go there.
This article is, quite conveniently, about a producer I’ve admired for some time – Liverpudlian native and now Berlin-based, Tony Lionni.
To me, the modest, reserved, illusive and somewhat unsung Lionni flies the flag when it comes to the production of good and proper House music. Authentic House music. I remember first listening to his ice-breaker release, Found A Place, as a student back in 2009 – a spine-tinglingly mesmeric track that will own you outright with an infectious recipe of elevated chords and a wonderfully simple vocal loop that works and works every time. In hindsight it seems hardly surprising that Ostgut Ton awarded it a slot on their top 10 tracks of the decade compilation.
Whilst I’m here I might as well mention the other Lionni track I still can’t get enough of today, Body & Soul, a track released on Kerri Chandler’s Madhouse label back in 2011: same ingredients, same results.
This leads me, rather nicely, onto the centerpiece of this very article – Tony Lionni’s newest album, Just A Little More, released under the beady eye of Madhouse Records boss Kerri Chandler back in November.
The odd delay here or there meant the album’s release date was pushed back a few times but I’m not complaining – if you’ve not had the pleasure of listening to this already, you’re in for a treat.
As an album, Just A Little More is beautifully exact in the sense that you can tell each track has been meticulously pieced together. This would make perfect sense, as it seems apparent there was plenty of oohing and aahing when it came to the selection of the final twelve records – Lionni even stuck one up for grabs on Soundcloud as a tangy appetizer midway through last month.
In essence, this album marries together all the classical nuances you’d associate with Kerri Chandler and the supreme production skills of Lionni. They go hand in hand. Both these guys have a rich heritage when it comes to influences and styles and this comes through in waves during this album. It’s eclectic, full of soul and plenty of punch.
Take ‘Shelter From The Rain’; meditative and magical even, this track lifts off like a hot air balloon headed straight for the clouds. You won’t find a more majestic sequence of chords that stretch, like elongated summer shadows, before melting in-between a meticulous layer of padded synths. It’s languid, Chandler-esque and soulful, just like Take Me With You, a track built around some quite pearly Rachel Fraser vocals that make for a heavenly composition. It’s soothing, soft and dreamy.
What I like about this album though, is that it doesn’t stick to one mould. Listen to ‘Can’t Help Myself‘ and you’ve left the balloon, you’re floating into the nether-regions of the stratosphere. The bass is chunkier – not sonic boom level just yet – and the vocals add a bit more meat to proceedings.
Please excuse the linguistic wankery for a second, but this whole album really does take the listener on a deep, personal odyssey through what could well be a twelve-track Lionni set. Or, as another writer put it so well:
“The album has a wave effect – the first few tracks are for listening to in transit; the core of the album offers a build on that, and then the tracks at the end are squarely aimed at the dancefloor. The basic idea of a grand finale really appealed to me”.
And a grand finale is what you get – the last few tracks on the LP were cut for the wee hours on the dance-floor. Inherently darker and built around more robust basslines, When 2 R In Love, Shining Bright and Positive Vibration are fully-charged floor-fillers, diluted with darker, mercurial elements. The latter track almost lends itself to a stoic trance-Techno template, leaving a gritty, but by no means bitter, aftertaste to a feast of flavours and styles.
For me, Black Orchid is one of the standout tracks. I can’t really put my finger on it though and that’s the appeal. It’s mysterious but devilishly tempting, beautiful yet dark.
I reckon if I had left this album under the Christmas tree for my Mum this year, she would have loved it. Hands down. Not because she’s partial to the odd bender or into electronic music necessarily, but because this album is packed with soul and substance. It’s a corker.
With a genre that has been booted around the playground all year, its ego bruised and battered, artists like Tony Lionni reassure us that the House landscape, in parts, is still as rich and fertile as it ever was, which is bloody great.
Let’s check back here at the end of 2014 to see where we all are with House music – should be interesting.