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White Noise: John Roberts – Glass Eights

Sunday, 3 July 2011

John Roberts – Glass Eights



Glass Eights

Berlin's endless list of deep house producers show a variety of artists who stretch house to its inner limits, fusing it with other genres to produce albums which often contain a unique and definitive sound; from Pantha Du Prince's minimal chimes to The Field's mechanical techno bent, all combine experimental composition with the anchoring warmth of house beats. Dial's only US national (but still Berlin-based) John Roberts has taken it upon himself to take house in a more classical direction, creating an LP of good tracks that make a varied and often stunning whole.

House is a genre known for its singles and compilations, but here it is clear that Roberts truly understands the album format; from the overture of Lesser to the ambient build up piano piece Went that leads magnificently into thumping closer Glass Eights the album is almost symphonically structured, and few tracks are out of place. The tracks can seem frosty at first, and perhaps the subtlety of composition is a tad unwelcoming but as the album becomes more lived in it opens up to stellar effect, the contrasting temperatures of icy classical textures and warm house beats unfailingly create a gorgeous whole.

This is showcased on opener Lesser in which a musty looped piano sample duels with an understated beat while a lofi fuzz recedes and re-enters the structure just like an instrument, synths cascading across the track. This moves into the backwards strings and piano of Navy Blue which create a glacial ambient soundscape upon which Roberts layers finely tuned beats with delicacy. Throughout this album each sound is finely tuned and subtly equalized so the whole has to be picked apart, it is never showy but the quiet moments where his skill shines through are always fantastic, most frequently revealed upon realization of Roberts' almost superhuman knack for deftly layering his beats. This is perfectly displayed in third track Ever Or Not, where the beats are even more subdued than usual and a hissed piano sample loses out towards the end of the track to foot-tapping handclaps of extraordinary precision, each clap leaving a dubby reverb echoing through the soundfield.

As a result of the subtlety of his approach, some tracks don't quite have the desired impact. The middle third of the album flags somewhat, heavier cut Dedicated seems oddly on the nose and although the beats are good the replacement of classical instrumentation by ominous synths ends up sounding slightly cheap. This is followed by Interlude (Telephone) which is a surprisingly full and satisfying composition for an interlude (and because of the album's careful attention to sequencing we can believe it was meant as an interlude not just a track that didn't quite work out in full), with an aggressive beat slowly superceding a jangly ambient melody. The album seems like it is going to pick up again with the sinister and brilliant Pruned which has an inspired piano chord progression soldiering on valiantly through a dark and foreboding soundscape of scraping strings and ominous synths. Unfortunately this is followed by the techno-esque cut Porcelain which is nice enough but tires out long before its seven minute runtime is up.

However I'd recommend the listener doesn't give up just yet, because the final three tracks are possibly the album's best. Autumnal cut August opens with a warping note accompanied by a cracking snare and is layered upon exquisitely by a cracking beat that builds slowly before a fantastic game-changing synth effect enters to periodically contort the track's landscape midway through the runtime. Not content to stop with what would already be a great track, Roberts undertakes a melodic breakdown, isolating and warping the individual layers before building it all back up again to great effect. The album is then allowed to take a breath in the form of pretty and emotive piano piece Went which double-layers complex notation to create a shimmering beatless sound. This prepares the listener for knock-out closer and title track Glass Eights which mixes a great descending piano sequence with one of the best beats on the album. The music departs with brief but beautiful strings that beg for the listener to go through once more, looking for more of these gorgeous details.

Even though I've described a low sequence midway through the album, the LP works very well as a whole and the better tracks more than carry the weaker ones. It's hard to isolate a killer single and most of the tracks need to be given time for their details to emerge and shine, but this album is a rich, atmospheric and deserving record that will reveal its brilliance listen after listen.


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At 17 July 2011 at 14:52 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the label is Dial, not Kompakt.

At 17 July 2011 at 15:02 , Blogger Tom Faber said...

Ooh you're right, my mistake


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