It’s a mark of the quality of John Talabot’s productions that they spark debate, not least between journalists and the producer himself. Ever since the first tracks started trickling out of his Barcelona studio in 2009, he has proved a master at producing the sort of rich, deep, melody-driven house that transcends dancefloors. Listen to his definitive single Matilda’s Dream, for example, or his contributions to Permanent Vacation’s superb If This Is House, I Want My Money Back series, and you almost forget they’ve been designed to make people dance.
And here lies the crux of the gentle stand off between Talabot and music critics. They say his music is sublime, summery, shimmering, soulful even. He says it’s dark, brooding and, on occasions, intense and the seasonal description was dismissed by Talabot himself during his keynote talk with Gerd Janson at last year’s Red Bull Music Academy, pointing out the name of his label, Hivern, is in fact the Catalan phrase for winter. Furthermore, in an interview elsewhere on these pages last autumn, he reiterated his opinion, promising that his recently completed debut album, ƒin, was “dark”. He also conceded that he had “no idea what people will think of it”.
To this writer’s ears ƒin is not an album shrouded in sonic darkness to the extent of a Blackest Ever Black release, but you can understand Talabot’s thinking, as there is a definite mood and atmosphere present throughout. Tracks such as “Oro E Sangre” and “El Oeste” are trademark Talabot breezy, melody driven productions, but these elements are defied by the underlying brooding intensity. For all the endorphin-releasing, swirling melodies and touchy-feely, retro-futurist grooves, there’s an uncomfortable edginess and melancholic depth that’s hard to ignore. Either way, there’s plenty of beauty to behold. At times, your heart will feel heavy and lovelorn; at others, it will sing.
Talabot has always been an impressive producer, but ƒin is easily his greatest creation to date. This could partly be attributed to his conscious decision to make it a “proper” album. While several of the tracks will no doubt end up getting plenty of club rotations, for the most part it’s designed to soundtrack hazy, late night listens from the comfort of the sofa. Even relatively uptempo concoctions such as the stumbling, woozy vocal cut “Journeys” – shoegazing house-tronica anyone? – seem designed more to enthrall headphone listeners than zoned-out dancers.
For the most part, ƒin is deeply rooted in house, yet it’s not a house album. In fact, it probably has more in common with IDM, electronica and new wave synth-pop than it does the productions of Kerri Chandler or Move D. It’s littered with quietly grandiose slo-mo and downbeat moments that recall the impossible-to-pigeonhole antics of Hyetal (circa the thrilling “Broadcast” set), Sepalcure and Instra:mental. Of course, it doesn’t particularly sound like any of those, but at times Talabot takes a similar sonic approach (see the spiraling chords and shuffling beats of “Last Land”, or the twisted vocal cut-ups of “Estiu”).
The album’s standout moment is its triumphant conclusion, “So Will Be Now”. The second of two collaborations on the album with fellow Hivern and Permanent Vacation artist Pional, it could well be an early contender for track of the year. Weighing in somewhere between deep acid house, future garage and blissful IDM, it features a distinctive, twisted vocal sample with echoes of Joy Orbison’s early work. Quietly building throughout, “So Will Be Now” is almost so beautiful it hurts. As the pitched-down vocal muses, “I hear a tender rhapsody”. It’s a fitting summary of a wonderful album.
2. Destiny feat. Pional
3. El Oeste
4. Oro y Sangre
5. Journeys feat. Ekhi
6. Missing You
7. Last Land
9. When The Past Was Present
11. So Will Be Now… feat. Pional