It's been nearly a decade since Ricardo Villalobos' playful, precise techno became a standard sound on dancefloors across Europe and North America, inspiring a progeny of producers aspirant to his particular strain of funk. As with any large, wealthy patriarch, his children have grown fat and dysfunctional, making for some fascinating viewing. In this analogy, Amsterdam's San Proper is the oddball cousin hanging on the periphery, never grasping too lustily at riches, content to leak his bohemian, rattail house music to the world in irregular intervals.
Animal, San Proper's debut for Amsterdam's venerable Rush Hour (after a spate of singles for that label, Perlon, and others), takes two steps back from the dancefloor. Composed of 12 tracks of house-inflected psychedelia, Animal aligns Proper with knuckleball specialists like Nôze, Koze, and Matias Aguayo. You know the drill, mostly: scattered percussion and flatulent bass pave the way for our auteur's baked mantras. He is "The architect of love" ("The Architect"), he is having a lobotomy performed on his psyche ("Brain Soup"), he is spelling out "r-h-y-t-m-and-m" over a fat kick drum, to no one in particular, as a modest trumpet encourages a catatonic shimmy (the sublime "A Choice Named Joyce"). Proper, a former guitar prodigy, stuffs his tracks with live instruments, often borrowing rhythms from the slower spectrums of house and painting over them with flanging guitar licks and catty disco basslines. Some prior appreciation for this kind of leftfield craftsmanship is helpful, as San Proper is neither as brilliant as Koze nor as melodically gifted as Aguayo. His voice, offered alongside dull reverberations, isn't as seductive as it should be; at times it resembles Richard Ashcroft's throaty moan.
Fortunately, Animal's hedge maze is more The Madcap Laughs than "Bittersweet Symphony." It's an effort that unveils a collection of personal psychedelic trinkets. This is not to suggest that Animal is delicate; over the course of an hour, the album's 12 tracks exhibit a putty-like pliability. The title track is Proper's pièce de résistance, an eight-minute fusion of shifty drums, a stalking guitar figure, and jungle (not that jungle) mysticism. It's potent enough that Villalobos distilled two separate dubby remixes for a 12", but in its raw form here, the song is a sinister, surrealist centerpiece. Proper demands a lush background for his musings: on the plain, aqueous "Water Castle" he's a shaman without a temple, his voice wanly declaring non-sequiturs. With the proper constructions—"Brain Soup"'s horny palpitations or "Swing Home"'s whiny strut—his vocals serve as addled perversions of house music's erotic declarations.
The strangeness of these incantations obscures just how brave Animal is. It's an album that goes all in on San Proper's personal neuroses, avoiding the collaborative nature of his (excellent) run of singles. There is, frankly, a lot that can go wrong with this type of quasi-pop; over the course of Animal, some of it does. On short, slight album closer "Déjà Vu," San Proper states his case plainly: "My word/ Is unheard/'Cause my gospel/Is absurd.".No doubt there will be listeners who recoil from Animal's idiosyncrasies, but for anyone trolling the hairier boundaries of house and techno, San Proper offers the right kind of delirium.