On an album created entirely using iPhone and iPad apps, the UK singer and producer trades his customary futuristic soul for the house and techno of his youth.
Steve Spacek’s career has never made many waves in the mainstream, but he’s a hero to the kind of music fan who worships Gilles Peterson and rare Japanese jazz records. In 2000 his band Spacek scored an underground hit with “Eve,” which was remixed by J Dilla and later sampled by the Roots, snagging the UK group an unlikely major-label deal. But their futuristic soul was too idiosyncratic to work in such a risk-averse setting, and the association was short-lived.
Two decades on, Houses is a record you could imagine a major label might happily work with. A distant cousin of Spacek’s smoke-infused psychedelia, Houses is a painless, largely unfussy album in which Spacek returns to the house and techno of his youth. The album’s 13 tracks play out over the steady tick of 4/4 drums; you can hear the influence of deep-house pioneer Larry Heard in the airy chords and spidery bassline of “Waiting 4 You” and Detroit techno originator Kevin Saunderson in the mottled, gnarly riff of “Love 4 Nano.”
Simplicity is baked into Houses’ production. Spacek recorded the album entirely on iPhone and iPad apps, and you can tell, for good and for bad. Bad because Houses at times feels oddly thin and underworked, more demo than finished article; and good because the album has an undemanding, even liberating, lightness that isn’t always present in Spacek’s more convoluted work. What sets Spacek apart from a legion of bedroom producers and their iPad presets is his distinctive voice, which occupies the glorious interzone between Marvin Gaye’s silky croon and Robert Wyatt’s troubled falsetto.
Lead single “Rawl Aredo” features a Latin-accented house shuffle and keyboard stabs—a not overtly challenging blend that legions of budding producers have created then discarded as they get to grips with their machinery—which he marries to jazz-influenced chords and a gloriously carefree vocal, the kind of semi-scat scamper someone might croon as they cycle down a sunny street. The vocal hook of “Waiting 4 You,” which follows, is absolutely undemanding and entirely catchy, a “Wild Thing” for the bedroom deep-house set.
This approach doesn’t always come off. “African Dream” sets a meandering, rather tuneless vocal against annoyingly stuttering production that even Spacek’s angelic tones can’t rescue, while the instrumental “Songlife” is far too flimsy, a collection of vaguely swinging electronic elements that have nowhere to go and no great hurry to go there. At times like these, you wish the album’s rare moments of eccentricity—the devilishly psychedelic ending to “Where We Go,” where the production sounds like it is being flushed down the drain—could have been more frequent.
And that’s the problem: Houses feels unadventurous by design. With judicious editing, the record’s frustratingly almost-there mix of unfiltered inspiration and sketchy production might have made a great EP; with more work it could have led to a decent LP. As it is, Houses disappoints as often as it delights.
Buy: Rough Trade
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