Grown Folk "The Boat" b/w "Keep Few Near"
At times, it can seem like the myriad of work credited to Grown Folk actually comes from two entirely separate production entities. Back in 2011, the Montreal duo made an impressive introduction for itself with two EPs worth of synth-led, vintage-tinged house, but since then, the pair has been more consistently heard from as a hip-hop production outfit, most notably producing floaty beats for Oakland rappers Main Attraktionz (for whom the members of Grown Folk have also served as backing DJs). Given this, "The Boat" b/w "Keep Few Near" can partially be taken as a return to form, which is not to say that Grown Folk hasn't, well, grown in the period between its 2011 Droptop EP and its debut outing for Icee Hot (a label we should again point out is partially run by XLR8R editor Shawn Reynaldo). The catchy melodies and playful synthwork of the duo's earliest outings have undergone a welcome evolution, resulting in more mature and enthralling productions that make this Grown Folk's strongest effort to date, especially because the group's new offerings are accompanied here by a pair of appropriately muscular reworks from Gerd and Ghosts on Tape.
There is a lot going on in terms of production on the two Grown Folk originals. Atop what sounds like drum-machine-born kicks and snares, each track fits thickly layered synths and keys, delicately compiled pieces of percussion, and washes of delay and reverb into the songs' wide stereo fields. Still, the tracks never feel crowded or mushy, as the layers work together in concert, giving the cuts a steady sonic flow. The results are hardly sharp or precise, but nothing significant is lost in the process. Opener "The Boat" wraps just a touch of Balearic glow beneath its pile of synths as it gradually expands into a laid-back, slightly cosmic house beat. Throughout the track, Grown Folk provides plenty for the listener to hold on to; the song features a buzzy synth arpeggio that gives way to a more bell-sounding one, sparkling melodies which rise from the background, and sparse vocal chops, all of which have little trouble sinking into the listener's head. "Keep Few Near" appears infused with even more of a Balearic-pop influence—though it is certainly not overstated—its distant bell melodies and airy chords floating alongside enticing patterns of hand percussion. The tune is slightly reminiscent of some of John Talabot's more dreamy production, although Grown Folk's track is pleasantly more subdued and woozy than much of Talabot's work, even taking on a bit of a new-age vibe in the way the movements of chords and melodies blend together.
Where "The Boat" and "Keep Few Near" are more subdued pieces of dancefloor fare, the reworks from Gerd and Ghosts on Tape equally multiply the energy of their original counterparts. On the Dutch veteran's remix of "The Boat," Gerd builds a pulsating, bass-heavy beat, on top of which he makes finely chopped moments of Grown Folk's tune fit within his thumping, space-age Chicago house beat. Similarly, Icee Hot resident Ghosts on Tape finishes the EP on a deep note, refitting "Keep Few Near" into more mechanical packaging, a constant supply of rolling snares and percussive FX driving the rework. In truth, it is difficult to tell exactly how each remixer made use of the original version of their assigned tunes (other than perhaps reusing the vocal samples), but that doesn't take away from the fact that both remixes are quality affairs. Clearly, Icee Hot's still-growing catalog isn't afraid to exist within a wide range of diverse sounds, even when those sounds are cohabitating on a single piece of vinyl.
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