[23 October 2003]
Hey, kids! Do you like deep, groovy, San Francisco house with lots of soulful vocals? The kind of stuff they play in those really hip “underground” clubs that haven’t changed the bar towels or the style of music since 1996? Then have I got a CD for you!
If I were really lazy (as opposed to only moderately lazy), I could make that my entire review of Kaskade’s new mix CD and leave it at that. For 14 tracks and 73 minutes, Ryan Raddon, the man behind the moniker, doesn’t serve up one surprise, good or bad. It’s just one smoooooth, seamlessly mixed deep house anthem after another, building from jazzier terrain into some full-blown disco diva and hallelujah stuff with a couple of poppier numbers thrown in to keep the kids at the bar bopping their heads, too. It’s every bit as polished and assured as the artist debut he released earlier this year, It’s You, It’s Me. And I’d be a hypocrite to harsh on it because I’ve been avidly listening to this stuff since Naked Music came along and made deep, soulful house more “sophisticated” by ratcheting down the tempo and the diva theatrics.
But here’s the thing: A lot of people since day one have accused this style of house music as being too “safe”, and after a steady diet of it for the past five years, I’m starting to agree with them. San Francisco deep house seems to be maturing into the dance music equivalent of Chicago blues—so deeply rooted in convention and formula that even at its best, the pleasure the new stuff elicits is equal parts excitement and nostalgia. It’s music for people who were hip ten years ago. Or in my case, five.
So: Granted that nothing on Soundtrack to the Soul is the least bit groundbreaking—is it any good? Absolutely. Kaskade’s skills as a house DJ rank right up there with the likes of Miguel Migs and Marques Wyatt, and he’s got production skills to match. There are three more Kaskade originals featured in this mix, and they’re all solid, which is pretty damn impressive considering this is a guy who just put out an artist debut less than a year ago. Especially good is the slinky, breathy “Truth”, but the bumping, strident soul of the title track and the pretty melody of “In This Life” hit the mark as well. Raddon even turns up under another alias, Late Night Alumni, teaming up with whispery waif Becky Williams for a pleasant comedown of a closer, “Empty Streets”. Only the “More Vox Mix” of “It’s You, It’s Me” doesn’t really work, interrupting the most high-energy portion of this set with a sound that buries the beats under layers of pop production that would sound a little too at home on a WB teen drama soundtrack.
When he’s not spinning his own tracks, Kaskade keeps the vibe groovy and the pace perfect for people who like to knock back a cosmo or two before casually moseying onto the dancefloor. Not until track 7 does he really kick the energy up above Nude Tempo level, with the “Peak Hour Mix” of Groove Junkies’ “Gonna Get By”. Vocalist Indeya lays on the diva routine a little too thick here, but the track has great energy, and sets the stage for more peak-hour rump shakers with campy-but-fun vocals: Pound Boys’ “Funky Music” featuring a snarling Thea Austin, Michelle Weeks’ “The Light”, and one of the set’s highlights, a deeply funky remix Ritma’s “Love & Music” done by—who else?—Kaskade himself. When does this guy sleep?
Elsewhere, Soundtrack to the Soul trots out tracks created and remixed by the usual deep house suspects. There’s an Andy Caldwell remix of Amma’s “Keep Hoping” with a great synth bass hook, a jazzy collaboration between H Foundation’s Halo and Jay J of “Freaks like Us” fame, and the lovelorn disco of Harrison Crump’s “I Need Your Love”. Kaskade saves the deeper cuts for later, stripping back the vocals and mining a less melodic vein on Members Only’s “More for the Living” and an excellent dub version of Audiowhore’s “After the Party” with a hypnotically looped string riff that sets up the dreamy closing number “Empty Streets” quite nicely.
All this being a long-winded way of saying what I said at the beginning: If you like soulful deep house, you’ll love this disc. If you don’t, well, this isn’t going to convert you. This Bay Area brand of house had its moment about two years ago, when Naked Music was on a roll that few labels before and none since have ever matched. Now, even Naked is branching out into breaks, nu jazz, and straight-up soul, and the sophisticated bump-n-sway of Soundtrack to the Soul, as good as it is, already has that nostalgic tinge to it that portends stagnancy.