Dâm-Funk has made a name for himself create near note-perfect replications of a very specific type of synthetic funk, one that came to prominence in the early part of the 1980s. Where others generally explore similar sonic territory ironically, Dâm-Funk’s approach is nothing but earnest, often bordering on the reverential. That he manages his highly mechanized beats and often thin synthesized approach to funk and R&B with a straight face is a testament to his dedication to an often overlooked or unfairly maligned era of popular music.
Always prolific — his first album, Toeachizown consisted of six distinct parts and sprawled well past the two-hour mark — his latest, Invite the Light clocks in at a whopping 20 tracks over 97 minutes of music. Along the way, he sticks mainly to his primary medium of synth-heavy, jheri curl funk. Enlisting a host of guest artists, including original genre survivor Junie Morrison who warns of a future devoid of funk, he lays out a concept album of sorts about the disintegration of funk music in a dystopian future.
While the narrative may be a bit skewed, Dâm-Funk’s take on early ‘80s funk is anything but. From the production on through to the instrumentation, one would be hard-pressed to accurately date stamp these twenty tracks. So given the sheer volume of existing funk of varying degrees of quality, one has to question the need for still more, especially on an album that so clearly seeks to ape a very particular period and style.
As with his earlier efforts, the answer, thankfully, is yes, the world does need Dâm-Funk and his particular brand of futuristic electro-funk. Positioning his music within the album’s narrative as mankind’s hope for a future full of funk doesn’t hurt either. And given the quality and range of the material on Invite the Light, it’s hard to argue the point as Dâm-Funk has clearly positioned himself as one of the 21st century’s preeminent funk prophets.
On the driving, largely instrumental funk workout “Surveillance Escape”, a detached voice tracks the progress of the titular escapee while numerous synths create layer after funky layer overtop a coursing mechanized groove. It’s at once unsettling and endlessly danceable, the type of churning, mechanical funk featured on albums with garish colors and graphics, all sat moldering in the cut-out bins of record stores across the country.
Where other contemporary funk practitioners take on a slightly broader, often more organic approach to the genre, Dâm-Funk is at his best exploring the synthetic. On the mid-tempo ballad “Missing U”, he coos and swoons with the best of his ‘80s peers, creating a sound very much of its time and inherently timeless. Being able to transcend time and space seems to be the album’s primary goal, playing with the idea of time and space within a funk context to create a series of songs that fit right alongside their influences, from Prince to Zappa to Junie to any number of interchangeable groove merchants.
Of all the collaborations here, the most left-field is found on “Acting”, a duet of sorts with Ariel Pink. And while the pairing doesn’t work quite as well as some of the others, from a stylistic and aesthetic standpoint the idea of the two working together makes perfect sense. Where Pink specializes in channeling a very specific form of pop through a skewed lens, Dâm-Funk manages the same, the only difference being the genre in question. So while the track itself doesn’t necessarily succeed, their having come together feels like a nature meeting of the minds, two fully enmeshed in the past and seeking to explore its inherent possibilities within a contemporary framework; sonic time travelers coming together for a one-off collaboration.
And given the tonal vibe of the album, this idea carries more than a bit of weight. The whole album has a retro sci-fi feel perfectly suited to the music and time period it sets out to evoke. One can imagine watching an accompanying film of the events on a severely degraded VHS cassette, the images themselves rippling in and out of focus as the soundtrack warps and static lines tear through the picture. That Dâm-Funk does nothing to hide his unabashed, unironic love of and for early ‘80s funk records only furthers the legitimacy of the music on Invite the Light.
Further proof of both his love and genre scholarship comes in the form of his collaboration with members of the Sylvers family funk dynasty, Leons III and IV on “Glyde 2nyte”. Working with two generations of Sylvers, Dâm-Funk manages to bridge the gap between the genre’s early practitioners and contemporary performers to create a near-perfect hybridization of the two that, more so than perhaps any of the other tracks here, manages to encapsulate the music’s evolution over the past several decades.
Were these recordings made in period, Invite the Light might well be hailed as a lost classic, one criminally overlooked and relegated to the dustbin of pop cultural history. As it stands, it’s a very good approximation of a very specific sound and furthers Dâm-Funk’s reputation and worthiness of his chosen sobriquet. A modern-day prophet for the funk, his is a musical philosophy well worth investigating further.