By Eric Blendermann
It’s always wonderful how hearing certain music can take you back to a specific place and time, calling up all kinds of memories and associations from your subconscious. For me, “No Parking on the Dance Floor” puts me right back at the University of Dayton in 1983. Cue up “How Soon is Now?,” and I see (and smell) the basement of Poseurs, Georgetown, late 80’s. And for me, “Cassius ‘99”, from Cassius’ album 1999, will always be the sound of the explosion of house music coming out of Paris just before and after Y2K. Bright and driving, built on electronics but decorated with sampled vocals and instruments, the distinct sound of late 90’s French house was blasted worldwide by Cassius, Dimitri From Paris, and of course Daft Punk, and bounced back from the UK and elsewhere by artists like Jacques Lu Cont and Chromeo. As always, the ascendancy of French house was soon supplanted by the next musical trend, but that bright, driving sound still connects with that time and place.
Letherette, the new release on Ninja Tune from the UK duo of the same name, plays like the second coming of Cassius, recapturing the swank and exuberant drive of French house from the 90’s, but still sounding contemporary and fitting right into the taxonomy of dance music today. File it between ambient disco and glitch-pop, with footnotes referencing The Art of Noise, Phoenix, and “Music Sounds Better with You.”
The album opens with the warm, shimmering tones of “After Dawn,” the soundtrack to a sunrise, easing you into the day with broad synthesizer tones and a steady, building pulse. Then, now that you’re awake, “D&T” picks up the pace and gets you grooving, with unapologetic pop beats and keyboards building to a flourish of electric guitars. “Restless” is an asymmetrical bit of electro-pop, laying what sound like Roy Ayers’ backup singers over minor-key boops and beeps that truly do not find any rest.
A few of the tracks on Letherette work up quite a head of steam, especially the throbbing “The One,” the biggest, most Cassius-like piece on the album, and “Warstones,” which cooks right along over popping bass, cowbell accents, and a winding line of steel drums that surely came out of a synthesizer but sounds great. Then there’s “Space Cuts,” in which Kraftwerk-y sounds of the universe provide the background for a propulsive disco workout.
Letherette has its contemplative moments, too, most notably the dramatic “I Always Wanted You Back,” as well as “Gas Stations and Restaurants” and “Cold Clam” – those two tracks play like a lost suite by the Avalanches, an extended emotional exploration built on dreamy, pretty samples. The album winds down with “Hard Martha,” an exercise in clockwork ambience – the sound of your still-busy brain when you lay your head down and close your eyes – then concludes with the lovely “Say the Sun,” in which guitars and keyboards build to a big, sunny echo, then slowly disintegrate.
The many pleasures of Letherette are more in the sounds than the songs; it’s music that makes its deepest impression on the subconscious level. You may be hard-pressed to actively recall any individual track on this album, but you’ll remember the overall warmth and energy of this music, and when you hear it again, it’ll take you right back to that place and time, whatever it may be for you.