Since his early days DJ-ing for Digable Planets, Philadelphia-born King has put his hands in many different musical pots, with mostly positive results. His two albums with the Sylk 130 collective, celebrating the dance music of the 1970s and ‘80s, are must-haves. His last major project, however, 2003’s hip-hop set Adventures in Lo-Fi, met with a mixed response. With his entry in Swank’s Late Night series, King focus on another of his strengths: gently soulful, highly atmospheric dance music.
If you’re a fan of King’s dancefloor-centric work under the Scuba moniker, this one’s for you. If you’re not familiar with him but like your late-night listening with a steady backbeat, it’s worth checking out. Though not as strong as 2002’s similar Hidden Treasures compilation, which lived up to its name, Late Night goes down easy and is not without some outstanding moments.
Like Hidden Treasures, Late Night doesn’t sounds less like a compilation than the work of one artist. King delivers two cuts himself and mixes two others, and several more come from his Fivesixrecordings label. Still, it’s amazing how well this baker’s dozen work together to establish that airy, effortless, nu-soul-funk-house sound. Put this down to King’s production excellence and his astute track choices. He marshals the smooth soul vocals, lush keyboards, gentle 4/4 rhythms, tightly-wound hi-hats, and subtle percussion into a continuous procession of cool—cool you can still dance to.
Even with such a uniform sonic template, a couple cuts really stand out. Solu Music’s “Naturally” floats submarine keyboards and waves of white noise on a surging bassline, while vocalist KimBlee’s sassy/seductive attitude seals the deal, especially on the biting chorus. The most late-night part of Late Night, however, belongs to King’s own remix of Plantlife’s “When She Smiles”. This is quite possibly the best make-out song ever recorded. King dices up the vocals and reassembles them into a chorus of chanted snippets from which phrases jump out like affirmations: “Her smile lights up the… / ...world just like on / Jupiter’s face.” All of this is enveloped in an ecstatic synthesizer starburst. Pure bliss, through and through.
The Spanish guitar on Wahoo’s “Holding You” and feelgood vibe of King’s “Our Time” are other nice touches, though it’s unfortunate that Late Night doesn’t sustain the superlative quality of its best tracks. The final third of the compilation, including King’s “Love Is the Answer”, comes across as one big, long sine wave. Multiple listenings confirm it; only the earnest vocals on Chamade’s “U & I” give some form to the functional, zoned-out atmosphere. It’s relaxing, all right—maybe too much so.
King’s mixing is a bit rough, as well. But the man knows where he wants to go, and how to pick the tunes to take him there. In this case, the destination is a chic, dimly-lit apartment in the heart of the city, sometime just before dawn breaks.