Kingdoms, Fort Romeau's sterling debut, was a surprising turn for the typically rough-and-ready (perhaps amateurish, on occasion) 100% Silk. On that mini-LP, Mike Norris, a keyboardist who cut his teeth as part of La Roux's touring band, delivered a set of lavishly textured house tracks, introducing himself as an artist with an unusually elegant vision in an era where brute-force live jams are quickly becoming the norm. Kingdoms cohered so magnificently that one might suspect he took quite a bit of time preparing its contents. By spending around a year putting together "SW9," its proper follow-up, Norris outwardly confirms this theory, though its title track was actually released as a free download on this site last year. Still, its companion tracks, one of which is a remix from German maverick Lowtec, show that he’s lost nothing of his spirit.
Norris' R&B-sampling deep house is not especially unique—plenty of other producers have mined similar territory in the wake of the so-called future-garage boom. What sets his tracks apart is more understated. He's aware that tear-jerking hooks are often supported by miniature details. "SW9," for example, is underpinned by spools of rustling hi-hats, which do as much to push the track along as the anthemic bassline and delicately yelped vocal chops. They're topped off by seductively swelling chords and, as on so many of his tracks, a fine layer of filtered dust. Without having heard the original "Love," its dub version resembles a take on "SW9." Norris employs a similar bassline and vocal, but its melodic side is plusher, as its overhang synthetically renders the twangy tranquility of slide guitar. Norris' tracks often crest on these sorts of luxurious atmospherics. Lowtec's remix of the title track, however, puts them in a kind of chokehold—the chords remain, but are relegated to a supporting position behind a skippy rhythm and the persistent bleeping of a dial-up tone. While the original's yelps are almost optimistic in tone, the remix's modulations lend them a disquieting urgency. Like most of the producer's material, it's both imminently functional and subtly odd, though it feels slightly cluttered next to Norris' originals. If any criticism can be leveled against those originals, it's that they suggest the producer hasn't progressed much, if at all, since his debut, as both could easily have appeared on Kingdoms and "SW9" was clearly made around the same time as that record. Should Norris continue repeating the same motifs, his sound—finely wrought as it is—could grow tiresome. At the moment, however, there are few producers balancing delicacy and thrust with this degree of musicianship.