John Roberts: Glass Eights

[14 December 2010]

By Timothy Gabriele

Vinyl crackle bristles through every track, but this is mostly designed to weather the terrain rather than stimulate the nostalgic cortex.  Piano, too, is central, but this is not ecstatic rave piano or even austere single note stabs. John Roberts, the first American artist on the Dial Records label, has put out a magnificent, forlorn little album called Glass Eights that plays very much into the Dial tradition of warmly textured, minimalist house music. However, it’s not a dance album.  That is to say, it’s not an un-dance album, but dance is tertiary next to atmosphere (the fuzzy shuffle and wind chimes of “Interlude (Telephone)”) and melody (“Dedicated” could be a Selected Ambient Works Vol 2 outtake, remixed to suit a beat).  Rather than traditional clubby garb, the piano here is robed in the murky melancholia of William Basinski and Max Richter, equal parts expressionistic, contemplative, and introspective.  Like Burial’s Untrue, this is a great album for lonely walks through dimly lit urban spaces, the Vaughn Oliver-style below-the-knees cover perfectly rendering the post 4AD black and white of the album’s emotional aesthetic as a shoe-gazing (though not “shoegazing”) traipse through one’s own headspace.

Though compiled with an array of samples, Glass Eights sounds wholly its own creation.  Even as it nicks stand-up bass and jazz cues, the pieces remain affective and moving.  One would never mistake this with the odiously sensual, lick-filching bachelor-pad-lounge chill-out of hip restaurants and casual sex.  Glass Eights is far too depressed and self-conscious to be a make-out album, either, even though its sadness is quite pretty. Instead, the production on standouts like “August” and “Navy Blue” acutely captures a desolate sense of space, the mind’s current reverberating against the perimeters of the past in one’s memory. Most songs are fairly short, which is good because they mostly linger in a particular sentiment and have no real trajectory.  Though the album itself culminates in the title track—the most house-leaning cut—its only fumbling points are when this general failure to generate steam within the course of a tune causes a song to derail before its terminus, such as on the 6-minute-plus “Pruned”. Otherwise, Glass Eights is an indispensable addition to any musical library.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/133698-john-roberts-glass-eights/