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Classixx: Faraway Reach

Photo: Laura Austin

In Faraway Reach, L.A.-bred dopamine dealers Michael David and Tyler Blake stick to their guns and craft disco-tinged dance-pop that draws equally from '80s new wave and maximalist EDM.


Faraway Reach

Label: Innovative Leisure
US Release Date: 2016-06-03
UK Release Date: 2016-06-03

Ultraviolet strobe-beams. Phosphorescent ember-trails. Premature dawn shimmers breaking through glass and kissing your forehead. Whatever permutation of light you can imagine, Classixx can convert it into a fizzy, spilling-onto-the-floor sonic chemical capable of corroding shadows, lifting spirits, and igniting motor neurons like a match to gray matter. On Faraway Reach, just like in their hyperactive debut Hanging Gardens, these chemicals abound; this is a record that submerges the dance floor in the skin-warming blissfulness of an early summer afternoon, that sparks body temperatures and curbs 9-to-5 anxieties, yet that also keeps the lights low enough for cross-room romantic exchanges to be dizzyingly suggestive rather than dully explicit.

Notwithstanding the breezy beach-wave synths and carefree time signatures in the title track and Panama feature "A Mountain With No Ending", these L.A.-bred dopamine dealers largely avoid the temptations of trop-house dilettantism here, instead sticking to their guns and crafting disco-tinged dance-pop that draws equally from '80s new wave and maximalist EDM. Yet Faraway Reach often still emits the equatorial heat associated with Kygo, Matoma, and their knockoff-brand ilk. The centripetal synth-gushes and kicking-in-the-sand bass of opener "Grecian Summer", for example, perfectly conjure the weightlessness of speeding down a coastline with one hand on the wheel and the other pressed into someone's palm.

But it's the track's vaporous vocal sample that best summarizes Classixx's warm-blooded aesthetic: explosive, breathlessly exuberant, rocking back and forth at the mercy of some overpowering ecstasy, it sounds like a real-time Pollock composition that, instead of paint, splatters its easel with the wreckage of an anonymous, now-forgotten diva's only hit single. Maybe these effusions, breaths, and lyrical snippets are from her breakout performance on record; maybe from her last. Regardless, they inflect the song with an irresistible melodic force, one that seems to pull the sun's golden hour yearnings beneath your skin so that your veins, muscles, and viscera all feel their heat up close. "Yeah, I love you", this diva sings, offering the only intelligible words of the whole song, yet they're the only ones we need; Classixx's beat does the rest of the talking for her.

"Oh, I wanna dance with somebody / I wanna feel the heat with somebody", Whitney Houston sang on her sophomore album Whitney, an R&B-daubed pop touchstone released in 1987. In this one couplet, she encapsulated the unshakeable human conviction that loneliness must be extirpated, not just by proximity, but by heat, that incandescent sensation of skin reacting to skin that turns sexual attraction into something more transcendent. This sentiment was also articulated eight years earlier by a 21-year-old Michael Jackson, who wielded it as a dance-floor plea rather than a bedroom confession: "You gotta feel that heat / And we can ride the boogie," he sings in "Rock With You", the word "heat" cresting and cutting off the instrumentation behind it, leaving only the drumbeat -- a heedless heartbeat-rhythm that "rides" forward like this new-love euphoria will last forever -- and Michael himself in a space of scalding desire.

Throughout Faraway Reach, Classixx's Michael David and Tyler Blake attempt to isolate this heat from "Rock With You" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody". For the most part, they succeed, transforming it from a metaphor for dance-floor passion into the sound of this dance-floor passion actually materializing and taking place. In "Ndivile", this heat emerges as a bouncy synth-funk groove that gleefully floats alongside featured artist Nonko's vocal. In "Eyes on Me", it's present in both the full-bodied bass wobble and blocky synth pulses, which, together, seem to reify the radiation that magnetizes all pupils toward singer Harriet Brown. Indeed, almost all of these tracks -- the electro-pop instrumental "Pure Distraction", the Michael Angelakos vehicle "Safe Inside", the lax New Romanticism of "In These Fine Times" -- employ sonics that capture the heat of bodies nearing one another and moving in unison.

Unlike many records by their nu-disco peers, Faraway Reach is also filled with an exceptional cast of guest vocalists. There are a few misses (e.g. the melodically muddled T-Pain cameo "Whatever I Want"), but almost everything here works on some level. "I Feel Numb", for instance, pushes Holy Ghost!'s Alex Frankel into a chorus falsetto that seems to ripple outward toward the track's perimeter. "I can feel it coming", he repeats, and even though the referent behind this "it" is never revealed, Frankel sings with such vivid emotiveness that it's hard not to feel this "it" approaching as well.

Gilded with Pointillist synth droplets and a characteristically top-notch vocal from How to Dress Well's Tom Krell, "Just Let Go" is arguably the most radio-friendly cut here. It's a formulaic pop narrative about lovers draped in sunlight, falling into each other's arms, and embracing the future, but, in Classixx's hands, it's more than just a formulaic pop song; rather, it's a rush of kinetic force, a horizon-gazing reverie, an ego-annihilating anthem. The protagonist is perhaps Krell's protagonist from What Is This Heart?'s standout single "Repeat Pleasure", but here he has completely recovered from his previous heartache. "Without your neck to kiss, I was thrown to the night", he once sang, but now he's found another neck to kiss, and the night that enveloped him before has been replaced by soul-soaking sunshine and a blissful feeling of shared heat.


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