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  • Filed under: Review
  • 04/25/2013

Outboxx Outboxx

When XLR8R spoke to Bristol-based producer Jacob Martin (a.k.a. Hodge) back in January (as part of our Bubblin' Up Week feature on Bristol's new generation of producers), he described his work with Outboxx—the house duo consisting of himself and Matt Lambert—as "all pretty much jam based" and about "just having fun." It's unsurprising then, that it's precisely that vibe that comes across on the pair's debut album for Idle Hands. The nine-track collection is rough around the edges and perhaps a little unrefined, but at the same time, it's absolutely packed with deep and genuinely infectious grooves. The two producers play on the tried and tested moves of vintage house without ever descending into outright nostalgia, and they do so in a loose sort of way that yields results which feel natural and are—above all—immensely likeable.

Broadly speaking, the record can be divided up into two halves, the first of which is loaded with more straightforward, floor-focused house jams, while the latter is a little looser and sees the pair bending genre barriers. To Outboxx's credit, the duo balances these two sides to the album skillfully—when the producers set their sights on the dancefloor, they do so in a seemingly spontaneous way that avoids feeling forced, while their later genre experiments remain rooted in the solid grooves that give the album its momentum.

Lead single "Sunshine Mills" is the album's most upfront and direct moment, but it's also one of the finest things the pair has released to date. In terms of its compositional elements, it doesn't deviate massively from the revivalist house formula that's a current mainstay of UK clubs—the retro drum machines, soulful vocals, and percussive bassline are all present—yet everything comes together in a pleasantly unrushed, meandering sort of way. Where other producers might throw in an ultra-precise breakdown for maximum dancefloor effect, Outboxx lets its rhythmic grooves unfold in a relaxed and more engaging manner. It's this trick that's deployed, albeit in a slightly less direct style, throughout the majority of the album's front end. "Jewel City" is a brilliantly slow-paced collage of hazy Chicago-house sounds that gradually builds into a wonderfully laid-back summer jam. "All The Right Moves," meanwhile, layers reverb-covered vintage synths and understated vocals over a swaggering funk bass riff to create another of the LP's standout offerings.

By contrast, each of the tracks on the album's latter half sees Martin and Lambert subtly inverting this formula in one way or the other. "Lost Soul"—which features vocalist Naomi Jeremy—is similar in make-up to the tracks that preceded it, but finds the pair swapping out the Chicago-house sounds for the shuffling hats and soulful textures of classic garage. Both "Withdrawal" and the brilliantly titled "Thrashing Groovster," on the other hand, strip back the layers to move things into more ambient, minimal territory. It's "Withdrawal" that proves to be the highlight of the two though; with its brooding bass hits, short bursts of metallic drums, and gorgeously melancholy piano outro, it injects a welcome moment of darkness amidst the largely upbeat mood of the album. Finally, "My Destination" rounds the LP off on a solid note by creating a dense coda out of swelling, downbeat synths and delayed percussion.

Ultimately, it's the prevailing sense of loose, jam-session experimentation that gives Outboxx its winning charm, but it's also very occasionally the LP's undoing. Opening track "Home," for example, feels DIY to the extent of coming across a little bit like a roughly mixed demo. Jeremy again appears on vocals, but her soulful pipes don't quite gel with the music for reasons that are difficult to actually pinpoint. Still, while Outboxx might occasionally feel a little unpolished, and more like an act working through various experiments than a finely tuned and fully formed piece, the end results are likeable and genuinely hard not to enjoy.

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