Chicago Shags – The Family Album review
Given Danny ‘Legowelt’ Wolfers’ insane level of productivity, you’d be forgiven for losing track of his dizzying array of pseudonyms and releases. Certainly, it can be hard to keep up sometimes, particularly when he throws in a curveball like Chicago Shags.
As confirmed Wolfers-watchers will know, Chicago Shags is the chosen nom de plume for his occasional collaborations with fellow Clone regular Brian Chinetti, best known for his driving, heavily electronic robot disco releases as Orgue Electronique. Given both producers’ productivity, it’s perhaps unsurprising that that moniker has only been used on three occasions; first, for a mini album of thrillingly vintage jack tracks on Bunker in 2005, then for much delayed follow-up singles in 2010 and 2011.
All three of those releases were, unsurprisingly, largely impressive. Combining both producers’ love of vintage Chicago house, dusty analogue machinery and classic, early to mid ‘80s synthesizers, all three came loaded with chunky, melodic and occasionally delightfully out-there fare that sat somewhere between very early jack tracks, Larry Heard-ish deepness and the alien electronics of Juan Atkins circa Cybotron (at least in terms of sounds, if not rhythms). Throughout, there was the odd track that hinted at both men’s love of robust European disco.
In many ways, The Family Album is more of the same. These are tracks that unashamedly hark back to a bygone age, where music was made not on computers but keyboards and magical boxes made in Japan. It’s not so much retro-futurism as just retro. First up is “Ponderosa”, a shuffling deep house jam propelled by nagging electric piano lines, fluid pads and hustling 808 percussion. Long, weary, drawn-out chords recall the spooky majesty of Orbital’s 1990 single “Midnight”, while chiming melodies and heady atmospherics evoke memories of dimly-lit raves full of blokes with goatee beards wearing jester hats and shiny bomber jackets. The Orbital reference is a good one; if they’d got Larry Heard to remix “Midnight” rather than Sasha, it would probably sound like this.
“Pancake Breakfast” initially seems to offer a more acid-inclined excursion – all restless 808 handclaps, solid kicks and tweaked 303 basslines – but quickly flourishes into a decidedly alien trip into stargazing territory. The melodies occasionally flicker, as if being beamed back from some long-forgotten NASA probe, somewhere in deep space. Stylistically, it fuses vintage Chicago bottom-end with the futurist sounds of Detroit. It builds to a formidable climax, its energy only matched by the far-sighted melodies that seem to cascade from the speakers.
Further Detroit/Chicago fusion is offered by the oddly titled “Firetruck Sunday”. Boasting the sort of booming analogue bottom-end that was once the preserve of Virgo Four or Phuture, it vibrates to the sound of tinkling electronic cowbells, head-cracking synth lines and, again, chiming melodies. It’s dirty, seemingly designed for sweaty Chicagoan cellars, but still retains an air of earnest futurism. Then there’s closer “To The Westfield”, another muted but impressive tribute to the early days of Chicago deep house. Unlike the relatively clean lines and cystal clear approach of the EP’s other tracks, it seemingly loses itself in layer upon layer of vintage synthesizers. There’s a decidedly squidgy bassline, some heady chords, darting melodies and, of course, a thick veneer of positivity. In truth, it’s probably not the best EP Chinetti and Wolfers have produced, but it’s rarely less than enthralling. Certainly, you’ll get few more enjoyable blasts from the past this year. And when it comes to analogue revivalism, few others really come close to the Dutch duo.
2. Pancake Breakfast
3. Firetruck Sunday
4. To The Westfield