Chicago has a big purity streak going on right now. A close-knit circle of DJs and producers including Tevo Howard, Justin Long, Mazi (a.k.a. Audio Soul Project), Hakim Murphy, and labels like Fresh Meat Records and Argot Music are returning to earlier sounds in electronic music. Championing vinyl in their DJ sets, analog equipment in their studios, and a nostalgia for classic '90s house and techno that furthers the music through a retrofitted framework, it's a mantra that's in lockstep with the work of fellow Windy City underground highlight Amir Alexander.
A quiet presence in Chicago until recently, Alexander has been steadily releasing his raw take on house, techno, and acid since 2008, but 2012 has seen a considerable uptick, with tracks on Rekids, the aforementioned Argot, and now, Hypercolour's HypeLTD offshoot. Serving as evidence that this mindset isn't confined to the Midwest, Alexander's Everybody's Beautiful EP is a perfect fit for the label. HypeLTD may favor bass-flavored house beats out of the next millennium, but it also tempers its growing catalog with retro-futuristic releases like this one.
The EP's lead track, "Dazed & Amazed," owes just as much to the Motor City as it does to Amir Alexander's ties to the Second City. Sounding as if Larry Heard sat down for a session with Theo Parrish, its low-end reverberation echoes like an upright bass string plucked and then left to vibrate. A Heard-style deepness hovers under all of the track's claps and kicks like one big, cushy pillow of bass. Warble is seldomly used in a house-music context these days, but that's almost what's going on here. As the techy, Detroit-style drum programming of a mechanical hi-hat jangling alongside the pitter-patter of pads and hand jive claps gives the track some bite, an ever-so-slightly unintelligible soul sample hints at the presence of the ghost of Motown past. There's no digitized thinness here.
Maintaining the deep atmospherics but cutting down on the density of the proceedings, the EP's title track is a sunnier affair. Birds chirp in the distance and broad-stroke atmospherics lift the mood, as Alexander's own musings—"I feel so good right now," "I'm lost in the music"—put the track's sentiment into words. Ambient elements swirl around the rolling drum-machine rhythms with a cotton candy lightness, imparting a dream-like quality that drifts back in time to a different era of underground club sounds. The acid mix Alexander gives "Everybody's Beautiful" as the EP's closing cut may wake it from its dream state, but it doesn't shift its underground status. Replacing the dawn-like chirping and sunrise sound palette with jacking 303 squelch and a relentless four-on-the-floor thump, the song suddenly becomes destined for peak-time play on the most dimly lit of dancefloors. The mix's mid-track breakdown reintroduces its origins though, with warm keys and Alexander's equally-warm sentiments returning to the fold. There's no denying the retro flavors on display here, but it's clearly Amir Alexander's intent to bring us forward by looking back.