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DJ Sprinkles - Midtown 120 Blues

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Artist: DJ Sprinkles

Album: Midtown 120 Blues

Label: Mule Musiq

Review date: Feb. 5, 2009

Terre Thaemlitz has used the handle DJ Sprinkles since his early days behind the decks, but didn’t release a proper full-length until now. And it couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Nested in Thaemlitz’s “hyper-specific” narrative regarding house music’s commercialization and sterilized recontextualization, Midtown 120 Blues speaks to the dead-end some say dance music has reached post minimal. Copiously discussed in a no-less-authoritative forum as Resident Advisor, the present quagmire can be badly summed up as follows: house, the aboriginal dance-music form, is now just a slick, modular formula whose function is accompaniment to hedonism. Thaemlitz doesn’t really offer a way out – he just sharply narrates how we got here in the first place…and what has been lost along the way.

Opener “Midtown 120 Blues Intro” is the disc’s only straight (no pun intended) statement of purpose. A pair of piano chords diffuses like smoke into diaphanous drones, muted arpeggios mumble, and robot fingers snap as an echo-extended snare keeps crackling time. Thaemlitz faintly lays out his case: Instead of the “greeting card” bullshit notion of house that’s most commonly trafficked – “life, love, happiness” – he insists “suffering is in here, with us.” The facile universalism of mass marketing broadens the terms of house music so vastly its inscription of gay disenfranchisement (as if that no longer exists) fades away. Enumerating the crises that lead to house’s emergence, multiple overlapping Thaemlitzes recite, “transgendered sex work, black market hormones, drug and alcohol addiction” et al. In opposition to hi-NRG diva commercialism, he proffers strictly rhythm: “minimal, mid-tempo instrumentals.”

The remainder of the disc is short on explicit testimony – though he damns the multi-platinum blonde for her unpaid dues to the first queens of vogue on “Ball’r (Madonna-Free Zone)” – and stays true to its stated template of stark mechanics. The title track floats on the same two-chord piano of its “Intro,” but here Thaemlitz magnifies the rhythm into a chain-link clatter, augmented by snippets of murmured moans. Removed from its socio-political context, the disc’s silken, cool undulations, mottled by chiming pianos and flute-like effects, is far from confrontational. Even when there’s a slightly martial lapse, it’s more funereal than combative. A march propels the hiccupping “Sister, I Don’t Know What this World is Coming To,” wherein a sampled orator hails the titular queer cri do Coeur.

Ending on a salutary note with the sweltering bossa nova strut of “The Occassional Feel-Good,” Midtown 120 Blues is thoroughly suffused in “blues” of both sorts. Its sorrowful, even elegiac at times, and enveloping in its subaquatic atmospherics, particularly on the levitating reverie of vinyl pops and train whistles on “Grand Central, Pt. II (72 hrs. by Rail from Missouri).” The album has in spades what many a contemporary dance effort lacks: a greater purpose and its ensuing range of emotions.

By Bernardo Rondeau

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