San Francisco's Naked Music has released a lot of fantastic house music over the last few years, but for my money their all-time greatest disc remains 1999's Nude Dimensions Vol. 1, mixed by a then little-known DJ from Santa Cruz named Miguel Migs. That set's sublime mix of kicked-back grooves and soulful, bittersweet songs put Migs on the map in a big way, and solidified Naked's reputation as America's preeminent deep house label.
Since that landmark release, Migs has kept busy producing and remixing tracks under his Petalpusher alias (he even remixed a track for Britney Spears, "Stronger", off Oops! I Did it Again). He also released another DJ set on the German label NRK's nite:life series, but for the most part, he's saved his DJ skills for the clubs, touring almost non-stop. But when Astralwerks teamed up with Naked Music last year, they wisely sent Migs back to the studio, where he's cooked up two releases for 2002 -- his Petalpusher artist debut, set for later this year, and Nude Tempo One, another DJ set that's almost, but not quite, as delicious as Nude Dimensions Vol. 1.
The biggest difference between Nude Tempo and any previous Naked Music release is its heavy use of dubbed-out vocals. Five of the disc's 16 tracks are identified as "dub" remixes, but many more than that feature dub's echoing, fractured vocal effects, giving the overall mix a spacey vibe that contrasts nicely with Migs' trademark bouncy basslines and four-on-the-floor beats. The slightly new sound is established early on with Hajime Yoshizawa's "Endless Bow", a dreamy soundscape of swirling synths and jazzy percussion. "Endless Bow" leads into a more conventional Naked Music track, Onda's "Happiness is Free", a great deep house tune featuring a tricky bassline and the sort of sexy, breathy female vocals the label is famous for. Migs' mixing skills are on full display as he segues effortlessly into a more uptempo remix of Blue Six's "Love Yourself". This tune, featured on Blue Six's debut album Beautiful Tomorrow, just gets better and better with each reinvention -- Migs himself served up a marvelously groovy breaks remix of it on Nude Dimensions Vol. 3, and here he presents an irresistibly bouncy version of it from the Italian duo Basti and Vincenzo, complete with a George Benson-style guitar/scat solo. For my money, it's Nude Tempo's best track.
From "Love Yourself", Migs travels into cheesier terrain, laying down Fusion Groove Orchestra's overly discofied "The Dream (Deep Dreamer Dub)" and then really going cornball with "Show You My Love", with an over-emotive David Ruffin Jr. (yes, son of the famous Temptation) snarling over a falsetto male chorus. Both tracks have great funky basslines and that classic four-on-the-floor house sound that keeps dance floors hopping, but those vocals are just a little too silly for all but the most dedicated old-schooler to stand. The Discorados' "Get Down" is a little more bearable, but it's still as steeped in old disco sounds as its title would suggest.
Things get more interesting again with a dub version of Derrick White's "Soul 2 Let Go", which cruises along on synths as dreamy as any meditation tape, even as its shuffling bassline urges you to move your feet. It gives the mix a nice bit of breathing room, before Migs shifts back into more high-energy terrain with Headstock's percussive, horn-heavy "Highly Strung" and the dub version of his own "You Bring Me Up", with the seductive voice of longtime Naked Music vocalist Lisa Shaw reverberating over a rising horn line and a thick, syncopated beat.
Migs wraps up the horns/Latin beat section of his set with an effectively brief piece of Batidos' "Tengo Sed" in an all-percussion remix by Batidos' own Ron Trent. Then he moves into his heavy hitters: back-to-back tracks from leading house producers Nathan Haines, Kerri Chandler, and Andy Caldwell. "Spiritual", from Haines' Reel People (in yet another dub mix), is a nicely breezy piece of cocktail house, but Om Records' Caldwell stumbles badly with the wretchedly cheesy "I Can't Wait", featuring the worst lyrics of Migs' entire set ("Hurry, hurry, don't be late / Don't make this love wait"). The unquestionable standout is Chandler's "Atmospheric Beats", which uses a classic breakdown filled with bubbly synths and layered horns to build the energy up to late-night levels. It's a simple but wonderfully assertive dance track.
Satin Souls, who have made nice contributions to previous Naked Music compilations, represent themselves well again with a dreamy version of "Aziza", another track that flirts with disco camp (with punchy keyboard effects straight out of Blondie) but manages to avoid going over the deep end into outright cheese. Migs then gives us a preview of Lisa Shaw's forthcoming solo debut with her track "Ultimate High". Shaw's voice has leant many a Naked Music track a certain kind of sensual authority, avoiding the usual house diva excesses in favor of a rich, throaty delivery that falls somewhere between Annie Lennox and Everything But the Girl's Tracey Thorn. Shaw's her usual smooth self here, making a solid piece of deep house soar with her unmistakable warmth. Migs cleverly loops a throaty Shaw hum into his final track, Mindflight's "Release", giving its simple, uplifting wash of organs and synths a distinctly Naked sound, and giving his set a satisfyingly rich finish.
That last line sounds like I'm describing wine, but that's as fitting a metaphor as any for Migs' sound, which has always had a sophistication and polish that a lot of club house music tends to lack. His target audience might be likened to old bar hounds who have graduated from drinking Budweiser to Bordeaux. Nude Tempo One isn't Migs at his premium vintage, but it still goes down smoother than many another house mix, and proves that Naked Music, under their new partnership with Astralwerks, hasn't lost its knack for finding some of the grooviest deep house in the land.