[15 March 2012]
Fabric 61, the latest in Fabric’s series of compilations showcasing the avant-garde of the underground dance scene, highlights the talents of Visionquest, a group consisting of Lee Curtiss, Ryan Crosson, Shaun Reeves, and Seth Troxler—four DJs from Detroit who come at house music as a hometown tradition and, in Sean ‘My stepdad was a DJ’ Troxler’s case, something of a family birthright. Fabric 61 features remixes masterminded by the quartet, illustrating their obsessions and specialties, which consist largely of intimations of drugged-out bliss, evocations of retro-futurist kitsch, and expressions of gender-neutral sexual come-ons of the most desultory kind. The result feels disappointingly predictable over the long haul, indulging in a litany of dance club commonplaces that, sacred rites though they may be, prevent the mix from being any more than a mildly compelling showcase for Visionquest’s basic skill, as the quartet appear content to settle for adequacy at nearly every turn.
The album opens with two tracks that set up a laid-back, stoner vibe, with Visionquest’s mixes of Tin Man’s “Wasteland” and STL’s “Portland Waves” both favoring a dub-like sound that functions as comfortable mood music for the mildly anesthetized. For all the different ideas Visionquest throws at the wall over the next hour-plus of music, the openers largely set the stage for much of what follows. Even as the beats accelerate in speed and vibrancy, the mix remains characterized by a kind of nonchalance that’s occasionally disarming and usually exasperating.
The album makes an early effort to shake off the stupor with Soul Center’s “Hal 2010”, a fun, bouncy track that plays with elements of industrial while a pounding synth beat mingles amusingly with audio snippets taken from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The track works not simply due to its own kitschy pleasures but because of the way it swerves effectively and bizarrely away from the mood set by “Portland Waves”. Unfortunately, most subsequent transitions fail to play with expectations so effectively. Visionquest manages a number of eloquent segues, but eloquence overrides exuberance, as too many of the productions suffer from excessive tonal similarities, creating a dispiriting monotony. Visionquest excels at subtle, restrained shifts in tempo and feeling, but intimations of gentility generally don’t make a great dance record, and this collection is no exception.
Visionquest’s tasteful minimalism, while theoretically admirable, proves to be a consistent limitation. A track like Cassius’s “The Sound of Violence”, featuring the plaintive vocal come-on “I feel like I want to be inside of you,” lacks the urgency, and, more importantly, the jovial sleaziness one would hope from a great ‘fuck me now’ number. Instead, Visionquest’s production creates an almost reverent ambience, ennobling the vocal to the point where it turns into a camp artifact. Similarly, their production of Aquarius Heaven’s “Can’t But Love” leaves a potentially amusing and pleasingly vulgar mediation on sex, love, and economics adrift in a spare, almost gothy soundscape, manufacturing a not-especially-sexy dance floor miserablism that borders on the ridiculous.
The album’s best moments are spaced out more or less evenly across the album, starting with “Hal 2010” and continuing with “I’m Free”, sequenced midway just as things threaten to collapse into banal repetition. “I’m Free” benefits from a menacing bass line which doesn’t simply provide the requisite heavy bottom but rather produces an eerie tension with the almost comically tinny beats. It’s a minor masterpiece of bad mood music that helps reset the collection just when it most needs it. But things bog down again before recovering once more with the penultimate track, Fingerprintz’ “Heaven Felt Like Night”. “Heaven” brings a plaintive melodic emphasis to the proceedings, along with an emotional weight that winds things down on an appropriately wistful note, as the track channels a de rigueur ‘80s synth pop nostalgia vibe in order to produce a kind of catharsis, giving some measure of retrospective form and meaning to the often inconsistent, maddening mix.
These highlights crystallize Visionquest’s potential and provide amble proof of their considerable skills, but everywhere else, the quartet seems content to amble about in search of inspiration, producing a compilation that merely demonstrates competence and rarely intimates brilliance. Still, their adequacy is borderline-interesting, and depending on where you hear the mix and with whom and under the influence of god-knows-what, their mediocrity could very well be your utopia. But it ain’t mine.