Ever since his 2015 debut album, Vod-Nizm, Japanese producer Ground has been churning out quirky, organic house tunes with an eye to international dancefloors. Ground is something of an everything-man. In addition to running ChillMountain Records, he’s helped lead and organize various festivals including SoundCampParty, a popular outdoor dance event in his home city of Osaka. There are certainly festive overtones to Ground’s brand of house, but none of that belies how meticulously crafted it is. In keeping with his name, the DJ’s music has an earthy, all-natural feel, incorporating birdsong, watery FX, indigenous rhythms, and classic Japanese woodwind instruments like the shakuhachi.
Ground’s newest LP, Ozunu, is inspired by the fairytales and folklore of Osaka. And while the music still bears his signature organic imprint, the result is a little more chopped-and-screwed. Ozunu is an album of knackered grooves, murky pads, and corroded synthesizers. It’s a soupy cauldron of acid house jams that almost all top six minutes but, stunningly, never feel too drawn-out. In this way, Ozunu is a definite step forward for Ground, whose past work (especially on Vod-Nizm) sometimes meandered into overly lengthy runtimes.
The magic of Ozunu is that there is so much going on in every track, but it never sounds overstuffed. Like the trippy album art, which Singapore-based artist Reza Hasni created, the LP is overwhelmingly colorful but never too colorful for its own good. Ozunu is that rare thing: an infinitely-layered, lavishly overdubbed house record that does not have a single misplaced flourish.
You could spend all day dissecting most of the tracks here, but the fun is in their danceability. The title track may be the biggest acid house banger of all, with its rickety percussion, psychedelic overdubs, and ridiculously fat bass. “Nigihayashi” is another strong contender, with its high-strung kick drums, pitch-shifted vocals, and squealing MIDI-flute. Tracks like these may not sound as organic as Ground’s earlier material, but they are richer and more fully formed.
But Ozunu knows how to get sinister, too. Take “Kaukiji”, a rugged slice of tribal house led by clattering hand drums, creeping sub-bass, and a deliciously eerie vocal sample. The sample never lasts more than a second, but its abruptness gives it a nervous, jittery quality. Which is emblematic of Ozunu as a whole—these are house tracks that titter on the edge of sanity. The bleeps and bloops on “Kibun Ebun” sound vaguely disjointed from the song’s rhythm. The bass on “Unshin” swirls and swirls until you think the song will explode, but it never does. Every little element on Ozunu is charged with a similarly manic energy. You feel like you’re on a collapsing dancefloor—but it feels good there, and you don’t want to step off.
Still, however weird and wonderful the first 11 tracks are, nothing will prepare you for the closer, “Yamanobe”, featuring Kaloan. It’s an absolute trip. The whole song chugs along like it’s stuck in the mud, a downtempo groove overlaid with flurried synths and deep, distorted bass. Kaloan’s vocals are sung in a half-spoken-word delivery that only adds to the lethargic pace of the music. The whole thing is endearingly disorienting, the way your favorite song might sound if you heard it in a dream.
And like all the best dreams, Ozunu stays both bizarre and entertaining the whole way through. Most house LPs fall into one of two camps: the album of straight-up bangers or the album that aims for something more immersive and thematic. Ozunu avoids the trappings of both—it achieves something singular and unique in sound, but it still kills it on the dancefloor. There isn’t a dull moment. Ground’s rickety, folkloric house achieves nothing shy of perfection on Ozunu.