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Dave Aju – Heirlooms review

There’s a lot to be said for artists that take their time. In a career that reaches back to 2003, Marc Barrite has issued just a handful of EPs and one album under his Dave Aju moniker. Roosting in his preferred home of Circus Company has provided Barrite with ample space in which to develop his wayward sound. Unlike some who find a style and stick to it, each passing year finds a different kind of Dave Aju gracing our ears.

Where the concept on his last album Open Wide was using just a mouth as a sound source, on Heirlooms all sounds have been sampled from instruments passed on to Barrite by his late father. However the starting concept is but a springboard from which he crafts his own vision for house music, and as with his previous output it’s a loose, free-flowing version of what the music normally entails.

There’s always been something transcendental about the Aju sound, no better exemplified than on opener “Rise”. The music comes swelling out of itself in a clarion call, intoning the same message Barrite’s vocal wants to share; a kind of spiritual throwdown. It’s unsettling on first listen, but as the unconventional way becomes more familiar, it grows ever more natural in your ears. On a similar tip of unusual soul-searching, “To Be Free” loops around in your head with an insistence about the nature of freedom. However Barrite is never sanctimonious in his appeal, instead coming on with a natural and somewhat irreverent approach which makes it easier to warm to. Meanwhile the beat chugs away with a homespun charm and the bass pulses like a comforting embrace. Bass is maternal after all, as Smith & Mighty once insisted.

There are many different shades on this album, but the single most arresting moment for this reviewer comes with “Until Then”. It’s perhaps one of the more demure cuts on offer, slower in pace and lacking any vocals, but as a perfectly realised house track it’s infallible. The chords come in bluesy and muted, slowly feeding in horns in a growing fanfare that’s partly mournful, partly joyous. It’s a simple trick, but the end result is simply devastating. As a complete twist, the following “Ms Reposado” and “Caller #7” are both uptempo electro-pop jams that reveal the more directly fun side of Dave Aju. “Caller…” in particular is a stone-cold boogie beast with dOP’s vocalist Jaw smooching in with undoubtedly one his best appearances in quite some time. It’s as if he was born to croon over this kind of crafty funk.

What makes Dave Aju so wonderful is that his music transcends any genre trappings. People who detest house music would still have a good chance of finding pleasure in his craft. Perhaps it’s in the sunny Californian demeanour that seems to inform everything he does. Perhaps it’s in his refusal to play by the rules. Whatever the case, Heirlooms represents yet another leap forward for a constantly shifting artist.

Oli Warwick