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Basic Soul Unit – Northern Heights EP

Stuart Li has been doggedly hammering away on his studio set up for many moons now, quietly issuing forth his own vision for jacking house dynamics married to emotional depth. Based in Toronto, the artist has managed to operate relatively under the radar with his Basic Soul Unit alias, a name so seemingly non specific as to evade the memory the first few times you hear it. However the profile of Canada’s second city is steadily rising, with the likes of Art Department, Kevin McPhee and Egyptrixx all drawing attention to the sprawling metropolis of East Canada.

Now Belgian label Other Heights are issuing forth this selection of jams that continue the Basic Soul Unit mission, bringing a rough, Detroit-indebted method to play on two original tracks. The beguiling aspect of BSU is that, despite his influences being wholly apparent, his music manages to charm in a way that is utterly unique.

“Come On” starts fairly innocuously, with one of those tell-tale off beat snares that Mr. Li favours in his tracks, steadily bleeding into a pad n’ piano kind of deep house jam. So far, so standard, but late into the third minute a nasty, chunky bass synth comes in from nowhere to completely jar the steady workout. When additional harmonising strings get thrown in to accentuate this sudden switch up, the drama harks back to the first time Martin Buttrich’s “Full Clip” got blasted out by Carl Craig. It comes on like big-room theatrics played out in an intimate setting, and perfectly typifies why Li manages to bring something of himself to a well-worn avenue in house music.

On the flip “Growing Pains” is more immediately distinctive, with a naughty little bassline and beautifully filtered Juno synth work jamming away in a loose but considered fashion. There’s an acid heart beating away at the centre of this laid back jam, not least in the mid–section where the almost jazzy keys chafe against the arpeggio tricked out like a 303. That duality makes for another exemplary reason why a classically rooted sound can still be delivered in fresh ways. Siberian producer Unbroken Dub gets the opportunity to remix both original tracks and smooths them out into an easily digestible haze of dubby treatment and linear beats, creating tracky, late night grooves that will please those who have followed his contributions to the vinyl-only Rawax series with a hawkish eye.

Oli Warwick