You can take Recloose out of Detroit, but you can’t take Detroit out of Recloose. Eternally busy producer Matthew Chicoine relocated from the Motor City to Auckland, New Zealand in 2001, which makes him a big fish in a pretty small pond. Siphon off electronica from the rest of the country’s music scene, and that pond gets even smaller: At the 2008 New Zealand Music Awards, Recloose’s only competitors for Best Dance/Electronic Album were Shapeshifter and, um, Magik Johnson. (Recloose won, by the way.) Who knows how he would have fared in the urban Midwest—swimming in a sea of likeminded musicians jockeying for venue space—had he been there when Cardiology (2002) gave him a boost of fame and critical notice, but New Zealand must adore this guy. He’s the one introducing spices to the New World, a succulent American blend of the big, the quick, and the almost painfully funky.
More Stevie Wonder than the Belleville Three (though it wouldn’t have been possible if Juan Atkins hadn’t made records for extraterrestrials to get jiggy with), Perfect Timing is daringly fun and Recloose’s most liberating full-length release by miles. There’s zero ostentation in this music, and that’s huge. Think of Kompakt’s Total series, where the compulsion to dance is inhibited by the unsavory feeling that the producers could beat your wannabe ass at everything you tried. Some early Recloose releases (Cardiology included) betrayed a bit of that chiseled, haughty cool, but this record works on our appetite for the flagrant jazz and guilty pleasure funk most Europeans said auf wiedersehen to since Mo’ Wax fell off the face of the earth. “Robop” is so muscular, it’s practically rock, with an arsenal of fat synths that punch the air like sproingy boxing gloves. Add a vocal track, and this thing could’ve topped the R&B charts in 1983. ‘Perfect timing’, pshaw.
Recloose is basically a singles artist and Perfect Timing doesn’t flow as an album, but so what? None of his LPs do, and it’s much more significant that several songs here are among Chicoine’s strongest, showing him transcending the acid jazz whirlpool in favor of something more signal and rewarding. To whomever in the extensive album credits had the crazy idea to substitute a bass clarinet for a bass guitar in “Solomon’s Alive”, great call; it’s Detroit ghetto fabulousness epitomized, the bevy of horns imitating a confident strut down a dirty industrial sidewalk. If you play a 33⅓ rpm soul record at 45, you get “Emotional Funk”, where the sentiments are heavy but the rhythm is too kicky and fast to depress anyone. Which is pretty impressive, since vocalist Tyna just wants to rant about being cheated on, although he manages to squeeze in some clever wordplay at his girl’s expense: “I’ll be right here / I know you’ll be waiting like right there / You ain’t got to say a thing, I don’t care / I don’t give a f—, no I won’t swear.” Even the track title is a pun.
Strangely, however, the song I spun most compulsively was “Red Road”, a softer and less assuming number that, if I had to place bets, is one of three or so on Perfect Timing that Sonar Kollektiv wouldn’t designate as its own single. But the ease by which its elements link up so mellifluously—a twinkling drone, a rolling, suburban bassline, a slinking cabaret of handclaps, jazzy bridges—knocked this reviewer back against the wall. Additionally, the song’s structure is quite a bit more inventive than it appears at first glance: The instruments build, then back off as Genevieve Marentette sings a verse about love and the metaphysical, briefly reassemble themselves and make way for Justin Chapman to respond to her (in a sense), before a jazzy Rhodes breakdown ups and steals the show. By the same token, the soda goes flat when Chicoine adheres to Sonar Kollektiv clichés that recall the glut of chillout at the turn of the century. Yuck. It happens a bit too often to catapult Perfect Timing up to the highest echelon of 2009 electronica, but man, Recloose is this close to achieving greatness on the full-length level. The more he uses his imagination, the sweeter his music sounds. Chicoine has reason to be optimistic, and so do we.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times.