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Rick Wilhite – Analog Aquarium review

There is no doubt that Rick Wilhite is one of Detroit’s  least celebrated underground heroes. While he has a sizeable following in underground house circles, the Motor City veteran has yet to reach the same levels of wider acclaim as contemporaries Kenny Dixon Jr or Theo Parrish. Indeed it’s now at the stage where he’s famous for not being famous, so to speak. This can partly be attributed to his notoriously slow work rate; while his brothers-in-deepness keep a steady flow of releases, his singles are sporadic to say the least.

Analog Aquarium could go some way towards redressing the balance. It’s his debut album, and true to form, it’s a crackly, spaced-out gem. The ten tracks on display are loose, fuzzy and out-of-focus in that distinct Detroitian style, where each cut manages to appear unfeasibly well produced whilst sounding like it was recorded in a cement mixer. The sound is muddy, but peel back the layers of delay, reverb and raw distortion and the throbbing machine soul comes through crystal clear.

Predictably, there are plenty of ocean-deep forays into the scratchy, hypnotic style known as Detroit beatdown. “Dark Walking” (a collaboration with Marcellus Pittman), “Music’s Gonna Save The World” and “Sunshine Part 2” are all brilliant examples of this loose, almost horizontal take on deep house. “Cosmic Jungle” takes a similar approach, but boasts a nagging urgency (thanks largely to a relentless 909 bassline and some lovely live percussion) that’s noticeably missing elsewhere.

It’s not until we get to “Cosmic Soup” and “Deep Horizon” that the pace picks up. On the latter Wilhite injects a dose of urgency into the dub-laden chords thanks to some reliably hectic Latin percussion. It’s a gem. The former, meanwhile, is as stripped back and raw as they come; house at its most instinctive. Throw in two explorations into jazz-funk/disco fusion (one, “Blame It On The Boogie”, with Theo Parrish and Osunlade) and you have an album that somehow manages to do so much and so little at the same time. That, though, is its genius. Listen to it on headphones, and you’ll know what we mean.

Matt Anniss