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Motor City Drum Ensemble - DJ-Kicks

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Artist: Motor City Drum Ensemble

Album: DJ-Kicks

Label: !K7

Review date: Jul. 12, 2011

Motor City Drum Ensemble - L.O.V.E. (DJ-Kicks)

Motor City Drum Ensemble’s music is as pleasing and classic as a slice of chocolate cake: disco samples pumped up with a touch of techno throb, ricocheting around the MPC’s echo chamber in a sensuous, unfettered groove. Or rather, almost unfettered. As with those top-secret Strictly Rhythm gems, ultra-outre Walter Gibbons mixes and the Utopia Project, the lush, lounge-y vibe is offset with a tantalizing sense of heartbreak and anguish. All is thankfully not well, but the music nonetheless reaches for something better.

As is the case with such a simple recipe (disco house as well as chocolate cake), there’s a bit of mastery needed behind the scenes. Beyond some serious arrangement chops, you have to be a head to compete in this arena, with knowledge of and access to unclassics on par with the eBay set and way ahead of the reissue curve. Thus I would have expected MCDE’s DJ-Kicks to be packed full with a bunch of rare shit I’ve never heard of. Instead, he uses it as an opportunity to stretch out and explore his influences, contemporaries and a couple deep, deep cuts, exclusivity be damned.

This means that Sun Ra, Rhythm and Sound, Tony Allen, Mr. Fingers, Robert Hood, Loose Joints (mixed together in a moment of claustrophobic inspiration) and Aphex Twin all make appearances. What’s cool is how he extracts driving, funky undercurrents from unexpected places. Richard D. James’s floating melodic shapes are of course heaven on earth, but the throbbing acid undercurrent was all the more pronounced here. Ditto for R&S’s "Mango Drive," whose pulse is maintained across a couple mixes, giving some extra weight to Tony Allen and Electric Wire Hustle while simultaneously being lifted out of its stupor by its breezy companions.

Thankfully, it’s not all “101” level cuts, with a grip of tracks you will probably never hear unless you commit to exclusively spending time with grumpy record store “tastemakers.” Fred P.’s "On This Vibe" is an awesome find, with a title that could only describe its hazy atmospherics more accurately with the addition on an ellipsis at its end. Philippe Sarde’s "Le Cortege Et Course" is a nice cassette-ripped electro gem that can’t decide if it’s synthpop or opera (to hilarious effect).

All these songs swim around in an enjoyably druggy, spirited groove, never exactly peaking or sagging. Probably the most energetic moment is the aforementioned Robert Hood/Loose Joints (gulp) mash-up, but by the time we get there, we’ve been through so much dubby, jazzy, languid territory that Hood sounds less like the dark prince of techno and more like an unusually driven stoner.

Then again, I’m not really sure what the purpose of these mixes is. Obviously they’re no stand in for a real DJ at a club, and I don’t see what occasion would call for them beyond hanging out around the house or taking a stroll with your iPod. In that respect, it’s totally fine that MCDE avoids liftoff. Keeping things groovy and spacious, you get an expertly-mixed hour of funky music that you’ve mostly never heard before. Who could be mad at that?

By Daniel Martin-McCormick

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