Tres Demented - "Brainfreeze (Carl Craig "Sessions" edit)" (Sessions)
Carl Craig used to be Detroit Techno’s nabob of sob, a wistful wallflower whose productions wrapped tears in grey cellophane. Craig’s defining emotional coloration was a kind of benumbed drowsiness, best exemplified on albums like More Songs about Food and Revolutionary Art. When he did break into a sweat, as on “The Climax,” or Innerzone Orchestra’s “Bug in the Bassbin,” Craig still played it cautious: this was dance music more likely to exhaust itself through mental than physical exertion.
The first disc of Sessions, consisting mostly of Craig’s exemplary remixes, works along similar lines. The dub plaint of Rhythm & Sound’s “Poor People Must Work” is folded into a muted, abstract political plea; the vocal inflections of Beanfield’s “Tides” are cast in some of Craig’s most minimal productions, such that when he eventually introduces synths or melodies, its impact is similar to a bold flash of light in a darkened maze. Craig even manages to make the twee sigh of the Junior Boys’ “Like A Child” significantly wimpier (maybe he’s finally found source material that out-softs his own productions like “At Les”).
Ending the first disc with the twisting, morphing lines of his remix of Delia Gonzales & Gavin Russom’s “Revelee” signposts a change in tone. On the second disc, Craig loses the inhibition: by the time of Tres Demented’s “Demented (or Just Crazy),” he’s growling into the mic over stentorian techno; the following, unreleased mix of Faze Action’s “In the Trees” has a three-note riff spinning through the rhythmatrix like swarms of bees battering the windshield. Here, the widescreen opulence of Craig’s melancholy gives way to steely resolve, a kind of aggressive internal fortitude. The astral proclivities of Craig’s “Futurelovetheme” offer some breathing space, though in context this sounds almost winsome in its futurism, an elegy for futures missed.
In a recent issue of The Wire, Philip Sherburne described Craig’s production style as “determined, traditionalist…and far more classically minimalist than the vast majority of minimal.” Sessions is a good lesson in how determination, traditionalism and minimalism can lock together to produce both more of the same, and some serious surprises. They’re emotionally generous productions, but they’re also focused, trained, disciplined: the minimalism here is more about cutting to the heart of the matter than any generic preset. And by stringing together tougher examples from Craig’s career in one mix, the second disc reminds that there was always an iron fist in the velvet glove, no matter how weepy Craig could get.