Various Artists: Porno Chic 2

Maurice Bottomley

Various Artists

Porno Chic 2

Label: Distance
US Release Date: 2002-06-11
UK Release Date: 2002-06-24

A real problem with compilations is the likelihood of them containing, if they are any good, tunes you already have at least once. Less of a pain, admittedly, than hating everything on the disc but tiresome nonetheless. Now, I buy a lot of Distance records so when I glanced at the listing on Porno Chic 2 I was not overly impressed. Kevin Yost, Julia McKnight, Chez Damier, Mikael Delta and so on. Stalwart Distance acts all of them and all excellent, but surely here was yet another crass re-shuffling of the back catalogue.

Wrong, very wrong. This has been for the past three weeks my most-played CD. It is true that there is almost as much old material as new, but the flow of the set is flawless and even the familiar tracks appear in re-mixed or refreshed form. Context and sequencing are key to the success of any compilation. Each track here seems to gain immeasurably from its placing. This is a coherent collection and, almost incidentally, shows off deep, jazzy house (in its Parisian mode) at its seductive best.

Ignore the Porno of the title -- only the formidable nuns of my schooldays would consider this pornographic. The term is used as a clumsy signifier of a perceived and fashionable hedonism. Blame Dmitri and his Playboy Mansion sets. Erotically charged it is, however, and the whole thing positively oozes Chic. Whether the artists come from Maryland, Detroit, New York, Denmark, Greece or France (as many do) they share a particular brand of musical suavity that Distance has always championed.

Laid-back, perhaps a little too beat-driven to really qualify for the newly-lucrative lounge market, Porno Chic is the sort of "French House" set that started to make itself heard in the late '90s and has some affinities with both the San Francisco and Toronto scenes. Cool House I would call it and this is as good an example as you can find. Tasty and tasteful, lots of "real" instruments, equally divided between songs and instrumentals, suitably Latin in places and grounded in the smoother jazz-funk of the late '70s -- a dessert rather than a main course but subtle and irresistible affair.

Highlights have to be two new tracks currently making an impact as twelves. Hannah Hais' "Il Parlait Pas Francais" is classic deep-house with world-weary half-spoken, slightly-vocodered female vocals. What immediately grabs the attention are the spare, haunting keyboard fills. One glance at the sleeve-notes and it all makes sense. "Larry Heard Super Deluxe Vocal Mix". Yes, the originator of deep house is on duty and this may be his best and most club-friendly effort for some years.

Danish outfit Freeformfunk also convince with a quasi-LLorca/Ladybird vibe on "Only One". This is melodious (lovely mute trumpet touches) and, despite slight and slightly poppy vocals, pretty soulful. It is also that rarity in house circles -- a well-structured song. If the duo have more material like this they could soon be talked about reasonably in the same vein as Blue Six or The Rurals. Ideal for both the less hectic clubs and late-night radio play.

The album actually opens with two unreleased tracks from a name new to me. Soul Makerz offer firstly a gentle neo-Bossa, "Frequencia", which will please anyone who enjoyed Bebel Gilberto's Tanto Tiempo. Better still is "Rhodes Party" an organ and guitar led jazz-funker which Chillifunk must be kicking themselves for not snapping up. Very Jazz Cafe, very well crafted. The jazz and Brazilian feel inaugurated by these two cuts hovers around the set as a whole. Del Vegas' fine version of the standard "Felicidad" being the most overt and exuberant expression of the Latin tendency.

Taking the jazz-funk a touch deeper, who else but Kevin Yost. The weighty, dignified and accurately named "In Walked Mr. Cool" got rather lost on last year's Road Less Travelled album. Here the distinctive, uncluttered Yost guitar runs and the sonorous bass-lines of the American multi-instrumentalist are restored to their full, refined magnificence. Yost is deep house personified and the nu-jazzers would do well not to ignore him just because of his fondness for the "unbroken" beat.

Mikael Delta's debut outing (Halcyon Days) showed the Athenian producer to share much in common with Yost. Also a master of more than one instrument, he lacks something of Yost's authority but is perhaps the more versatile talent. He features twice, firstly with "Postcards From You", a mellow almost classical composition from Halcyon Days, and then in collaboration with Billie Ray Martin on "I'm Not Keen". This strange, dark and multi-layered affair brings the record to an oddly intense close. Although it has inevitably a rather indie-meets-house feel to it (there is something so evocative of the early '90s about Martin's vocals), it is more than worth its inclusion. Never has a song which is essentially about the joys of a quick, casual sexual encounter been delivered with such metaphysical gravitas (sounds silly, I know, but it's true).

Two anthems make up the package and both work well even if they do not appear in their definitive forms. KOT plus Julia McKnight and "Finally" arrives via the Lenny Ibizarre mix which ensures the mood and tempo is apposite but does pale before its more full-blooded main-room versions. Chez Damier's "Close" still sounds superior in the smooth JT Donaldson re-rub but loses the ache and intensity of the original. Here for once, the context is more important than the text itself.

A minor blip on what is a lavish and beautifully modulated experience. Yes, you need to like the easy ambience of those deep, jazzy flavours. Yes, you need to prefer your dance rhythms not too stomping. Yes, you have be a fan of post-Metheny guitar runs and dreamy female singing. If you do like any or all of the above, Distance have given you a taste of those qualities at something near their absolute peak. Smooth,satisfying and surprisingly substantial Porno Chic 2 displays all the sub-genre's defining characteristics as capably as anyone has yet managed, even in this year of Coffee Table House and the Downtempo Deluge.

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