Mark Farina's Chicago House Meditations Continue On
Mark Farina may have begun mixing his own brand of house music nearly two decades ago but that doesn’t mean his compilations have grown stale. Indeed, the House of Om DJ mix—one of two recent albums he’s produced—is an energetic continuation of his live sets. A fresh batch of remixes from, among other obscure artists, King Kooba, Bobby Valentine, and White Collar Criminals combines well with tracks Farina produced himself. The result is a narrative DJ set that picks up where others in the Om series left off. It begins a linear, well-plotted story that flows between unique dance cuts with invisible transitions.
Farina opens this album, as he has others, with an inspirational meditation from a deadpan commentator: “Just as we cannot say two words at the same time, we cannot think of two things at the same moment. Since this is true, we should only think good”. By positioning himself as an arbiter of positive thinking, Farina establishes a tone early in this mix that, without further commentary, pulsates throughout the hour-long set.
This thematic set-up makes way for “Dubalicious,” a traditional 4/4 house beat punctuated with saxophone riffs reminiscent of the mid-‘90s Chicago sound. It’s a welcome departure from Farina’s Mushroom Jazz project, a downtempo blend that, while a unique listen and cutting edge for its time, diverges from the Farina I prefer: the Chicago House extraordinaire with a San Francisco flair. Of course, this Acid Jazz may appeal to some. I, however, appreciate Farina’s forays into Chicago House—like his late-90s release Seasons—and enjoy his mixes more when his friendship with Derrick Carter comes through clearly in the record choices as it does here.
The records he chooses to incorporate are relatively unheard of outside the DJ set, but each song consists of familiar beats and bass lines. The vocals, likewise, contain recognizable voices and samples with oft-heard clichés, like the repetitive call to “Get up … get up … get up…”.
Throughout the opening ten tracks, from Bobby Valentine’s “Car Garage” to the Freaks featuring Robert Owens’ original demo mix of “Right Now”, the compilation is solid, representative of Farina’s unique house sound. Though flawless house DJ sets are rare, Farina comes off technically fluent here. His ability to resist the obvious breakdown and to allow some tracks to play out longer than others makes for a surprisingly stable upbeat tempo—one that lacks any remarkable crescendo.
Following on his own “Cosmic Melody”, however, Farina slides from an uptempo piano track into an atmospheric soundscape overlaid with a clap track—a hurried rush into morning music sound too soon before the album’s done. The sampled vocals that chime in to welcome listeners to Café Paradiso soon become tedious as he loses the earlier stability and begins to transition to a slower, calmer sound that plays out for too long. While attempting to ease listeners out of this spirited musical narrative may work for some mixes—and the concluding tracks on their own prove admirable—without a noticeable climax to this mix, the downtempo ending feels like a betrayal. Its shift in rhythm and sound may not have been abrupt.
Despite this hiccup in the mix’s linearity, the album feels hip-shakingly comfortable, a gentle reminder of the disappearing sounds of Chicago House.