Bobby Browser Just Browsing
San Francisco is an interesting place. When it comes to electronic music, it's unquestionably one of the best cities in the US, a place where DJs from around the globe excitedly want to play, knowing they'll be greeted by enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowds. In terms of quality parties and audiences with an open-minded attitude to all sorts of sounds, it's honestly hard to top San Francisco, at least in terms of places situated on American soil. That said, it's not a city that's generally celebrated as a hotbed of producer talent. Yes, San Francisco was ground zero for the '90s West Coast house scene and is also the home base for labels like Om and Dirtybird, but overall, the City by the Bay still lags behind places like New York and Detroit, not to mention London and Berlin, at least in terms of respect for its current musical output. So where does that leave an artist like Bobby Browser, whose Just Browsing EP is his first proper solo release?
In all likelihood, Just Browsing most likely isn't going to propel San Francisco to the top of the respectability charts, especially when it's being released on 100% Silk. The label, which has been undeniably impressive in its single year of existence, has yet to shake the perception that its core audience largely consists of reformed indie rockers and people who have only recently discovered dance music. Granted, this sense of lighthearted naivete, not to mention the label's unmistakeably loose, handcrafted sound and DIY spirit, is a big part of what makes 100% Silk releases so enjoyable—and fashionable—but it's safe to say that a portion of the dance-music community remains a bit skeptical.
Moving back to Bobby Browser, this sense of skepticism isn't exactly alleviated by his previous affiliation with Party Effects, a dubiously electro-indebted Bay Area quartet that often seemed more preoccupied with taking silly group photos, building jokey websites, and indulging in internet memes than actually producing quality music. Thankfully, Browser's post-Party Effects activities have been much better, as he's been working both as a solo artist and as one half of relaxed house duo WAV DWGS. He's always been a bit of a gear hound, often performing live with the assistance of an array of classic drum machines, and the songs on Just Browsing definitely display that affinity for vintage sounds.
"Smooth Cruise" kicks off the four-track release, bringing together washy synth melodies with a subtly funky disco bassline, percussion lifted from the early days of house, and just a few hints of acid. The song is definitely a throwback, perhaps even to an imagined era where disco, house, and '80s funk breezily mingled on exceptionally cool dancefloors. Nonetheless, while "Smooth Cruise" certainly borrows from the past, it doesn't sound dated. The same can be said for "Airbody," which leans closer to old-school piano house and is undoubtedly the EP's strongest cut. Like "Smooth Cruise," the track emanates an ultra-hip, Pacific-Coast-at-sunset vibe, even with its more overt dancefloor inclinations.
Just Browsing only has one real misstep, and it's a small one. "No Appointments" utilizes the same sort of retro sound palette as the rest of the EP, but also places the vocals of Mara Barrenbaum front and center. Although her singing chops are just fine, something about Barrenbaum's voice comes off a bit thin and doesn't quite jive with the production. The end result isn't terrible by any means, but a singer with more soulful heft could have really hit it out of the park. That said, Browser quickly rights the ship on EP closer "Always Many," a tune which balances twinkly melodies and tweaky acid lines over a pleasantly trundling bassline.
In the end, it may be unfair to evaluate the whole of San Francisco's dance-music credibility on the basis of a single EP from a producer who's only just beginning to strike out on his own as a solo artist. That said, San Francisco is a high-profile place that could certainly use an influx of recognition for its local production talent. Just Browsing may not be perfect, but it is rather good, and is hopefully just the first in a string of quality releases from Bobby Browser. In the meantime, he can rest assured that he's done his city proud.
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