While hype acts come and go, it’s pleasing to be reminded sometimes that the real auteurs in electronic music manage to carry their clout with them wherever they head. As is par for the course with such characters and their creations, they never please everyone all of the time. Take an artist like Ricardo Villalobos, who can take his minimalisms and repetitions to maddening ends and yet still be lauded by many (albeit scorned by plenty others). Theo Parrish operates in a similar vein both in his productions and DJing, sometimes sounding awkward for awkwards’ sake, often deliberately obtuse and just occasionally delivering a sweet pill of direct satisfaction that keeps legions of listeners at his mercy. It’s not an easy trick to pull off, but Parrish has arguably nailed it more than any other of his Detroit/Chicago brethren.
It’s also notable with Parrish just how much music he puts out on his own Sound Signature imprint and for the labels of fellow Midwest beat heads. However it’s quite rare to see him transmitting his wares via European imprints, with a couple of exceptions being the seminal “Falling Up” for Third Ear and a low-key single sided jam for Kindred Spirits, but now Gerd Janson has scored an almighty coup with this full-blooded, full-fat Theo release on his own highly regarded label Running Back. The maverick house producer is among friends here, with names such as Mark E, Move D and Jacob Korn questing for that same fusion of rootsy, organic samples with modern, heavyweight groove. You could argue that most of these artists have in some way taken their lead from what Parrish and his peers have been up to across the Atlantic, but either way the Hand Made 12” seems right at home here.
Coming back to the point about Parrish’s reputation for wild-card arrangements and unpredictable composition narratives, the first thing that strikes you about A-Side track “Black Mist” is just how direct it comes on. An inimitable Parrish beat kicks off replete with sizzling hats and woody kick thuds, while a growling bassline lurks in the lower register waiting for a filter to grant it access clearer into the mix. This eventually takes place some five minutes in as the shackles get loosened and the notes from said bass start drunkenly tripping over each other, but that’s only after a long workout of pure rhythm. It’s a functional approach that many Detroit house cuts don’t afford you, but immerse yourself in the minutiae of the elements on show and you’ll find all those expressive nuances that make for an auteur’s creation.
If “Black Mist” was surprising in its immediacy, then the piano-rocking funk of “Pop Off” should be downright revelatory. It’s not like Theo’s never known how to work a good hook, but the power of the chunky chord stab which stomps over a suitable percussive backbone feels almost too easy. True enough, the track finds that perfect break and rides it the way Parrish works a rotary mixer (eyes closed, lost in the loop) rather than giving the listener thrills and spills, but as the heat of drums gets turned up and more hits come clattering in, things really start to jack and the piano keeps on pounding. As is so often the case, it’s all about a simple idea being executed perfectly.
Before you worry that the man Parrish might be going soft in his old age and giving it all away, “Wild Out” comes back to set things awry. A muted cacophony of bleeps and distant bassy drum hits flit around each other in a thoroughly erratic manner while something resembling a hat ticks away with no rhythm to work off, before out of the mists a jerking groove tries its best to take hold before being submerged into the murk once more. It’s uncomfortable listening after the instant satisfaction of the first two cuts, but it’s also a pleasing reminder that Theo Parrish won’t change for anybody.
1. Black Mist (extended version)
2. Pop Off
3. Wild Out