Review: Long-established house and techno twosome Dan Berkson & James What are proud to announce the arrival of their debut album, Keep Up Appearances, on their own recently minted Modelmaker label. To be released in December on beautiful double gatefold vinyl and CD, with reworked woodcut artwork by Conrad Felixmuller, it has been a long time in the making but the wait has more than been worth it. … Read more
Before now, Berskon & What have become synonymous with raw, machine made house and techno with no frills but plenty of heft on labels like Poker Flat and Crosstown Rebels. Their music engages dancers in the head, heart and heel in equal measure and this considered new album proves that once again.
Keep Up Appearances was written over the course of 18 months and has been whittled down from over 20 tracks, all made using mostly analogue gear with the usual Roland and Moog boy's toys, whilst the trusty Fender Rhodes, Space Echoes and Moogerfooger pedals are featured on many of the tracks. "At first we had a much more eclectic approach to making the album," says the pair. "But as time went on we found it worked better if we presented only the more electronic tracks together. It's not a straight up home listening album, but it still has a beginning, an end, and a couple of slower tracks that hint at our wider tastes away from the dancefloor."
Opening up with the deep space atmospherics of 'Quiet Life' the album immediately transports you to another world. The title track is then a melodically lush and uplifting affair with curious synth patterns ebbing and flowing beneath crisp percussion. Tracks like 'We Search For Answers' combine organic, wooden textures with more synthetic and trippy synth sounds that are as far away from your standard sample packs as can be imagined.
Across the course of the album there are dark, moody and emotive pieces like 'Worship' (previously released in extended form on the MDL02 single) featuring Qzen who reads a poem by Patience Agbabi in tantalising fashion as well as heavyweight, dubbed out techno groovers like 'Shadow Theory.' 'Make It True' (of which Seth Troxler will be releasing an extended edit on his Play it Say it label, complete with high profile remixes) is another great collab featuring the vocals of JoJo de Freq, and the track itself is a harmonious, radiant house jam that is humid and human in equal measure. The otherworldly, snaking 'Feel Free' again showcases Berkson & What's ability to coax alluring emotions out of their machines and closer 'Logan Five' wraps things up in suitably spangled, textural fashion.
Despite the fact much of this album will work on a dancefloor in the hands of the right DJ, there's an invention and musicality to it that renders the whole thing hugely listenable away from the club. A testament to Berkson & What's analogue invention and fluid ideas, Keep Up Appearances really is a master electronic oeuvre.