Just Black Can't Put My Finger on It
Much like Fort Romeau's excellent Kingdoms LP earlier this year, Just Black's debut outing on Amanda Brown's 100% Silk imprint eschews much of the lo-fi experimentalism that we've come to expect from the Not Not Fun sub-label in favor of classic-sounding, emotive house locked around multiple layers of percussion. On Can't Put My Finger on It, the Detroit producer serves up two sprawling, unlabelled mini-mixes of original material, spread across both sides of a cassette and clocking in at just under a half hour in total. It's hypnotic, loop-driven dance music fixed around strong grooves and subtle melodic lines that prefer to slowly fade in and out of view rather than making any kind of grand entrance.
100% Silk's current fixation with releasing dance music via the DJ-unfriendly cassette format is an interesting one. On the one hand, it's evidently a bit of a novelty, a throwback to the punk aesthetic of Not Not Fun's DIY roots, yet in a strange sort of way, it suits releases like this one. Stripped of the forced track divisions of CDs, the material weight of vinyl, and the endless metadata options of MP3s (the release is available digitally, but is still presented as two tracks labelled "Side A" and "Side B"), the music exists in that detached reality reserved for the best kind of mysterious late-night DJ sets, and it serves to accentuate the 'deep' elements of this sort of intricately composed dance music. Sure enough, it's pretty much impossible to differentiate where one song ends and another begins; percussion loops, synth lines, and funk samples drift over the top of one another, each element slowly dissolving into something new until the entire blueprint has subtly shifted. Essentially, it's taking what the underground masters of '90s house and techno were so good at—electronic music reduced to its fluid, repetitive best—and applying it across two 15-minute chunks of original material. As such, there's little in the way of instant hooks to grab the listener the first time around, but there are plenty of moments that reward repeated listening, like the shuffle-infused drums that open side "Side B" and the point at which "Side A" descends into syncopated, rhythmic vocal chops.
The downside is that for all the depth and fluidity, the release feels like it doesn't really go anywhere. There's no real crescendo, no resolve, no eventual payoff; side one fades in midway through a bubbling, acid-sounding bassline and side two fades to the sound of a sprawling sax jam. It's as if the listener is tuning in part-way through some epically long and deep house mix—joining the party a few songs late and losing interest before the set reaches its natural conclusion. It's not worth bemoaning the lack of a destination too long though, as there's enough impressive scenery scattered along the way to make Can't Put My Finger on It a worthwhile journey.
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