I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t really care much for Jam City’s Magic Drops EP, his debut EP proper for Night Slugs. To my ears, there was something too clean about its lines, something too plastic about its textures, something fundamentally lifeless about it. Everything that made his vital refix of Endgames’ “Ecstasy”, which arrived on Night Slugs’ white label imprint in Summer 2010, so exciting – its raw, frantic string slices, scattershot drums and a bassline that referenced grime without trying to slavishly recreate it – were missing in action. Last summer’s Waterworx EP was much more alive however, ripping apart the static structure of that debut EP like a child who had built up a Lego house using the instructions and wanted to reconstruct it in his own wayward manner.
If Waterworx was Jam City (otherwise known as Jack Latham) learning to build new shapes, then Classical Curves is the producer smashing the structure entirely and suspending its pieces in three dimensional space. Although the barrage of elements at play in each track are most certainly rigid, seemingly tethered to an invisible matrix, they’re never linear – and many tracks create the impression of a bullet time scene which can explored from any angle. “The Courts” for example, is a sensory assault of acoustic handclaps, DX7 bass, and hi-tops squeaking against varnished wood, rendering a US varsity scene in perfect detail, while the barrage of camera shutters and strobing beats present in “Her” suggest being blinded by hundred flash bulbs going off, tempered only the occasional Rhodes interlude which flips the gaze from the camera shutter’s subject to that of the photographer watching the presumed “Her” of the track’s title.
Perhaps most important however is the shift from a predominantly grime based aesthetic to something that is more loosely house or techno – it’s a subtle shift, but one that’s marked nevertheless, and this transplant from a London to a more US based sound sets Latham’s music in a whole new light. “How We Relate To The Body” is underpinned by warm pads and drifting piano melody that recalls the warmer end of the Motor City’s output riding up hard against serrated stabs from the handbook of classic electro, while the sustained, but slowly ebbing wave and diamante melody of “Club Thanz” is Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack and the incidental music from a dozen 80s cop dramas rolled into one, creating a montage sequence in your mind of a sleazy private eye wandering the rain soaked streets of future Los Angeles. The MIDI saxophone of “Strawberries” is another such moment – a weird simulacra of smooth jazz that couldn’t be further from the subtly dystopian urban moods invoked in his earlier output, while “Love Is Real” is the end credit music to the 16-bit version of an 80s teen movie classic. Although Classical Curves is undoubtedly an album of some of the boldest club music anyone will release this year, it feels as much a series of vignettes that place you inside an outsider’s version of US culture cobbled together from memories of MTV, questionable movies watched on VHS and old Dance Mania records picked up in the local charity shop.
If all of this sounds like a bit much to take in, that’s because it is at times – taken in a whole sitting Classical Curves is a sheer sensory assault that will overheat your imagination. The Night Slugs design aesthetic has always depicted fantastical locations in some kind of Tron-meets-Escher-style world, but not until this album has the music on one of its releases transported you so completely and utterly inside its alternate reality of such beautifully constructed artifice. For this reason it feels like the defining release for a label which has never really been about a particular sound, but a vibe, a shared affinity within its tight knit family. Classical Curves is less an album of music and more a computer program designed to facilitate that vague sensation, and although looking its jagged polygons in the face can sometimes feel like you’ve strapped on an early 90s Virtuality headset, the experience is a hundred times more exciting than the hollow promises made by that clunky and obsolete piece of technology.
1. Backseat Becomes A Zone While We Glide
3. The Courts
5. How We Relate To The Body
6. Club Thanz
7. Hyatt Park Nights Pt. 1
8. Hyatt Park Nights Pt. 2
10. Love Is Real
11. The Nite Life ft Main Attrakionz (Bonus Track)