Osborne vs. James T Cotton
- Words: Brandon Ivers
As Soundmurderer and SK-1, Todd Osborn and Tadd Mullinix attacked overproduced drum & bass with bomb-scare fury, refashioning classic ragga jungle into their own retro/not-retro creation. Now, a few years later, the two have pulled a similar trick with house and techno, but instead of sitting on the bare fringes of a too-far-gone scene, they’re in the middle of their own zeitgeist. Based out of Ypsilanti, Michigan, a town 30 miles outside of Detroit, Osborn and Mullinix have given new meaning to the word prolific: No one else can claim to have their hands in so many different genres and not come off like dilettantes.
Osborne (mind the “e”) is Todd Osborn’s first full-length; his new material focused on a smoother, deeper aesthetic akin to the Balearic vibe that fueled Britain’s ’ardcore uproar. It’s a far cry from the typical Soundmurderer mash-up, but the move back through rave’s lineage makes sense, given the history. The diva vocals on the velvet-roped anthem “Ruling” are the kind of thing Remarc or Nookie would have sampled during jungle’s heyday–the soul-laden interlude before the crashing tide of amens.
Luke Vibert and Analogue Bubblebath-era Richard D. James are another crucial component of Osborne’s sound. The plaintive “5th Stage” and “There” are all jammed-out keyboard melodies, like a rock song in techno clothing; lo-fi and effortless, driven by rave urgency, these tracks are IDM before it had the name. Likewise, on the dancefloor-oriented “Evenmore,” Osborne recalls Suburban Knight’s “Art of Stalking” bassline, but makes it sound like warehouse-y British techno, full of Phuture Assasin dub alarms and cavernous, stutter-stop claps. It’s “rave” in the classic, macro sense–the sort of thing people played before genre rules forced everyone to pick a side.
Differing from Osborne’s inclusive approach, Tadd Mullinix’s second album as James T. Cotton, Like No One, is strictly for the DJs–he makes no concessions to the home listener. Mike Dearborn’s Chicago jack anthem “New Dimension” is an obvious starting point for Mullinix’s sound here, heard in the murkiness of Roland drum machines smeared across dusty analog tape. But where Dearborn lets his melodies continually build, Mullinix cuts back and focuses on the hypnotic aspects of his grooves. “Don’t Even Try It” is deceptively simple for that reason; the off-kilter drop-outs and flanged dynamics make rigid sequencing feel like a breathing thing.
Mullinix is also a fantastic collaborator, and D’Marc Cantu, DJ Traxx, Ellis Monk, and Osborn (as TNT) show up on “Like No One” to further the jak-beat agenda. Most notable is the track with Cantu under the 2AM/FM guise, “Sensational Rhythm.” Built up over 10 minutes of circular chants, antique house rhythm, and acid bass, “Sensational” is industrial psychedelia at its most stripped-down, with the “hook” nothing more than a repeating, hypnotic shock.
When considering both albums as a whole, it’s clear that Osborn and Mullinix share a deep reverence for classic house music, but where they jump off from those allegiances is very different. Osborn’s strength is deep melody and slow building structure; he falls more into the Frankie Knuckles archetype of house-as-pop. Mullinix, on the other hand, follows Ron Hardy’s lead–sweaty, psychedelic and raw, yet traditional in a noisy, rockist way. It’s a separation that’s likely at the root of why these guys are so good–their indulgences are balanced by each other, rooted equally in the past as in the future
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