If you’re looking for subtlety, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Ghislain Poirier (who has of late dropped his given name for the sake of the more marketable one-name treatment) has been tinkering with Caribbean and African sounds for the last year or so, releasing three EPs, one after the other, over the course of 2009 and early 2010. Never once deviating from the dancefloor, Soca Sound System, Run the Riddim, and Low Ceiling reveal an artist bringing his own identity to dancehall, soca, and electro, with elements of reggae and kwaito working their way into the mix as well.
Where releasing the EPs as separate entities forced listeners and DJs to focus on the differences between the styles Poirier adopts for his music, tossing them all into the same place forces us to hear the similarities. By rearranging the running order into a more album-friendly flow, we hear an artist who can’t help but keep bludgeoning our ears. Theoretically, the updated order would allow us to feel a little bit of respite from some of the styles on display, but when something like “’90s Backyard” buzzes at us to the point of blurred vision, the constant bass syncopation of “Enemies” (punctuated by occasional machinegun snares) couldn’t rightfully be called “respite”.
That said, the first disc of Running High is a perfect way to find all the music of the EPs in one place, and everything — from the galloping, frenetic, Mr. Slaughter-fronted “Get Crazy” to the minimally-produced “Let Them Hate” (with a defiantly melodic vocal from YT) — is suited for the dancefloor. The only real misstep here is MC Zulu’s vocal on the ridiculous “Gyal Secret Pictures”, an ode to sexting that’s really just embarrassing.
Unfortunately, much of the goodwill built up by the music from the EPs dissipates a bit when the second disc of Running High starts playing. Largely a remix disc for the songs from Disc 1, Poirier finds that allowing other artists access to his work allows them to bring out aspects of these styles of music that he completely and utterly neglects in his own work.
The very first of the remixes on the second disc is one of “Enemies”, done by Sticky. The strings Sticky uses might be a bit schmaltzy in the context of a dancehall banger, but they support the melodic nature of Face-T’s vocal rather than working against it the way that Poirier’s production does. Sticky even dares to tinker with the tempo, cutting it in half for the hook. It’s a remix that’s striking because it sounds like it should have been the original, and Poirier’s version the remix. Wildlife! takes the relentless, bordering-on-annoying “’90s Backyard” and gives it a sinister, darkness-‘n-shadows treatment that does wonders for it. Even “Gyal Secret Pictures” is nearly redeemed by a remix from Baobinga featuring synths that give it a Prince-like retro feel until the insistent beats eat those synths alive.
Typically, a remixed bonus disc is mere added value — it’s here if you want it, it’s more music, and if you don’t like it, you still have the originals. When the remixes point out the deficiencies of the originals, though, it becomes a different sort of beast, pointing out that despite Poirier’s willingness to experiment with styles bound to the dancefloor, his methods are still terribly limited. Subtlety, melody, and a sense of humor are all absent in Poirier’s productions, qualities easily found in the remixes. The man whose name is on the cover of the album should be the star of the show, not a casualty of a cavalcade of more-skilled collaborators.
That said, perhaps the best vocal on either album shows up on the second disc without a remix treatment: A new track called “Bang Bang” that features Warrior Queen. For those enamored with Poirier’s style, it’s as good a reason as any to buy Running High given that it never showed up on any of the EPs that form the basis for the album.
While Poirier may still (may always) be something less than a well-rounded producer, he has a knack for the dancefloor, and this summary of his last couple of years certainly has at least as much to recommend as there is to criticize. He may want to reconsider sharing the spotlight on his future full-lengths with his many friends and collaborators in the industry, however — relegating his guests to his more obscure EPs might allow those who would listen to his albums to more easily concentrate on his strengths.