Various Artists: Bare Essentials Vol. 1

Ben Varkentine

Various Artists

Bare Essentials Vol. 1

Label: Astralwerks
US Release Date: 2001-10-02

Rhythm may well be a dancer (serious like cancer, as Snap! taught us all in '92) but away from the club, what seemed like an electrifying beat that couldn't be broken can lose a lot of it's juice. Rhythm may also be a song's "manacle and it's demonic charge" (Big Audio Dynamite II, '91) but to walk into our dreams it needs something melodic. Beat and interjections of a title hook just aren't enough.

These painfully obvious thoughts offered as preamble to this review of the first volume in the Bare Essentials series. These are records released on the Naked Music label over the past two years. Naked Music is the project of arranger/producer/mixers Jay Denes, Bruno Ybarra and Dave Boonshoft, and the Naked Music "sound" is stripped-down beats and lush everything else. It's as though someone took the soul of the '70s and cross-bred it with the "better, harder, faster stronger" beats of '90s and the new era.

What I like about the best material here is the way it finds a middle ground between rhythm and melody, beats breaking fast enough to move your feet and abstract, electronic "pictures" that engage the mind.

Speaking of pictures, a feature of Naked Music is cover illustrations featuring young women living up to the label's title. Besides the cover, this label-sampler reproduces the original vinyl sleeves of the records included. I suppose I'm not feminist enough to be righteously offended by this -- I want to, well let's just say, "go to a record release party" with the cover of Blue Six's "Pure" (though their "Music and Wine" has the best hook on the CD, especially in "The' Attaboy Vocal". But I digress.). I'm mentioning the cover art to make the following point: Although straight males (and, presumably, lesbians), especially in their 20s, could buy these records on cover art alone, they wouldn't need to. There is substance here. What puts it over is the delicacy and subtlety with which the producers and artists (often, as usual in dance music, the same people) give the recordings their color. Besides "Music and Wine", Lovetronic's "You Are Love", present here in an original and "Si Brad's Payback Vocal" versions, is probably the best example. The initial chilliness of the record recedes beneath the warmth of the vocal, felt even underneath the productions tricks and vocoder effects. Petalpusher's contributions are also available in two mixes each. "Breaking It Down", particularly in "Mig's Bump Deluxe Mix", combines the bubbly disco sound I associate with Anita Ward and other Soul Train guests from the year 1979 with the smooth surface sheen of Pet Shop Boys. "Surrender" (I like the "Attaboy Remix Edit") is playful, theatrical and groovy.

So here we are again, taking some music made for club dancing back to the house to see if it sounds as good after a day at work as it does on a night out. The answer is . . . hit it! I like this record more every time I listen to it.





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