Theo Parrish – American Intelligence

Any Other Styles, S.T.F.U, Dance of the Medusa, Footwork. In the last few years Theo Parrish has released a fascinating collection of looser, more experimental work on the margins of dance music and his own influential and distinguishable sound. It’s seemed a particularly fruitful period even in the long and distinguished release schedule of Parrish’s career – further lengthening the discourse between house music, jazz music, broken beat etc. that his music has always explored, and cementing a status as a restless, probing producer. The more investigational territory has proved increasingly divisive though, and records have sunk or swum depending on who you ask.

Theo Parrish - American Intelligence
Artist
Theo Parrish
Title
American Intelligence
Label
Sound Signature
Format
3LP, 2CD, Digital
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There seems the double-edged sword with a fan-base teetering on fanatical that some will obsessively chart all deviations – for fear perhaps of missing some crucial zig or zag – whilst some will lament the loss of the particular sound that they first fell into obsession with. But then Parrish’s music has always exuded a certain bravery – courting complex subject matter as often as complex production detail and patiently setting out a system of beliefs. American Intelligence, as Parrish’s first album in approximately seven years, reflects upon this new explorative chapter – and though a first listen might have you arguing to the contrary, it might actually be one of his most subtly radical major movements.

As ever, across tracks, each distinguishable element of sound is dropped in meditatively until a whole suddenly and magnificently forms within the inner ear. But here now there’s some new hard-to-pin looseness to tracks. Some actually feel like a refresh of previous Parrish records, as though they have similar gait. The stutter of “Life Spice” is analogous to the Ugly Edits series in the manner in which a groove is conjured from lumpy, meaty particles.  “Ah” with vocalist Ideeyah vaguely reminiscent of the tracks that utilised Monica Blaire and Alena Waters on Sound Sculptures 1, but with the nu jazz caught in an ambient loop of semi-perpetual stasis. Each new counterpart feels much less rigidly defined in comparison, as though some phase transition has occurred. It might be done implicitly (the deflective and acidic right angles of “Tympanic Warfare” feel laser-guided by the movements of free jazz, and one of the more forced moments of the album) or softly (the flirtation with, er, footwork on “Footwork”) but there’s the feeling that the album is connecting a contemporary, exploratory set of concerns with a career’s worth of music.

One of the more pronounced results of this is that a certain amount of attention is required, or else the music does start to drift away – particularly during a second half where the length of tracks and subtlety in variation of tone can lead a mind to wander. A reduced amount of samples as hooks might be another reason – Parrish has recently been playing up his status as a musician rather than producer (augmented by some truly fantastic collaborative work with Tony Allen and a touring live show) and so such overarching use of sampling takes a back seat. Instead, he plays with scenarios and an increased use of his own voice. “Welcome Back” posits the point in which somebody, assumedly Theo himself, gets hassled by authority on the way from the airport. There’s a lighthearted back-and-forth with a kid on the tail-end of ‘Ah’ spun as something a little cleverer. Some unravelling poetry/bullshit and a raspberry at the end of “Creepcake”. They’re fun, meaningful little asides, and work to break up tracks. Though their brevity vs. a tracks length sometimes means they get lost.

Personal highlights are still the exceptions to the rule though; “Make No War” with a heavily looped Barrington Levy sample and reverbed piano is sublime, and the increasingly violent chant o f “Enjoy Watching You” fires up strange submerged memories of LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver for some reason – urging me to dig it back out. “Be In Yo Self” is one of the more touted highlights – and it is great; jazz record, house record, and disco record all played at once, each hotfooting around the other to be heard. Its amongst these tracks that Parrish’s playfulness and lightness of touch is most penetrable, and where the key to opening up the other more evasive sections might reside.

Matthew Kent

Vinyl tracklisting:

A1. Footwork
A2. Cypher Delight
B1. Ah (feat. Marcellus Pittman, Ideeyah & Duminie Deporres)
B2. Creepcake
C1. Make No War
C2. Drive
D1. Fallen Funk
E1. Be In Yo Self (feat. Ideeyah & Duminie Deporres)
F1. Helmutlampshade

CD tracklisting:

CD1

1. Drive
2. Life Spice
3. Welcome Back
4. Tympanic Warfare
5. Fallen Funk
6. Ah feat. Marcellus Pittman, Ideeyah, Duminie Deporres
7. Make No War

CD2

1. Cypher Delight
2. …There Here
3. Thug Irony
4. Creepcake
5. I Enjoy Watching You feat Sass & Ruby
6. Helmut Lampshade
7. Be In Yo Selffeat. Ideeyah & Duminie Deporres
8. Footwork