Rick Wilhite - "Blame It On The Boogie" (Analog Aquarium)
Now seems the time for Rick Wilhite. He’s been close to the heart of Detroit techno and house for over two decades, but like a surprising number of his local community, Wilhite’s a quiet achiever — at least, until you put him under the spotlight, as Resident Advisor’s Todd L. Burns did last year, at which point his pride is made manifest. Best known to this writer as one third of 3 Chairs, alongside Theo Parrish and Moodymann, Wilhite also ran Vibes New & Used Music for a number of years, DJ’d under the pseudonym The Godson, and generally acted as an under-the-radar catalyst for his scene. All of which makes the release of his first solo album, Analog Aquarium, a very big deal.
Rush Hour’s 2010 reissue of two of Wilhite’s ‘90s singles, “The Godson” and “The Soul Edge,” gave us an artist cobbling together rough slabs of de-centered house from pinking-sheared samples, with big chunks of (i.e.) mid-’80s Prince crackling over the deep thud of The Detroit Four. The songs’ primitivism was their greatest charm: Here were tracks so urgently produced, they flew direct from the analog machines onto the dub-plate, with no time for “refinement.” (Refinement’s often a negative in this field, anyway. Who wants plateaus of pleasant nothingness on the dancefloor?) Analog Aquarium is tighter, but still robust and ragged. Wilhite’s meta-cover of The Jackson 5’s “Blame It On The Boogie,” voiced by Billy Love and co-written with Parrish and Osunlade, spends eight minutes swishing around an irresistible groove before ending mid-pulse, ungraciously, as though Wilhite’s just thumbed the “off” button for kicks.
Things are even better the further you creep into the record’s maw. “Dark Walking,” a co-write with Marcellus Pittman, snips hi-hats at your cochlea, see-sawing between wafts of halo’d analogica, tight and incorrigible bass eruptions, and male sighs lost in their own reverberant reverie. Two versions of “Muzic Gonna Save The World” pin P-Funk vocal asides to a slow creeper of a rhythm, with tambourines shaking out the blues while Sondra “Sonny B” Biar repeats the title as a mantra and an imperative, lost in a distracted dream of her own design. (For no other reason than the hypnotic light-headedness of the delivery, I’m reminded of Dani Siciliano, enraptured by domestic drowsiness, on Herbert’s “Going Round.”)
“City Bar Dancing Basement Mix” takes Analog Aquarium further underground, halting and slurring the track with cliff’s-edge cuts and pauses, doing odd things to your sense of rhythm. Later on, for “In The Rain,” a mnemonic from an old disco record is tweaked via EQ, pinned to the ground by a bruising four-to-the-floor tattoo, and scarred by mic feedback. It’s a thrilling ride because the seams are still showing. Indeed, one of Wilhite’s skills is to produce deceptively simple tracks that also play out like live feeds. By the end of the record, with the two “Cosmic” tracks and the second “Muzic,” he’s also proven himself a master of tension-and-release tactics, with “Cosmic Jungle”’s steamy flora spilling into the dippy aquatics and naked insistence of “Cosmic Soup.”
Analog Aquarium doesn’t make too much sense as a “statement.” Unlike a lot of artists who’ve just reached their debut album, Wilhite’s already marked out his territory through his broader engagement with Detroit’s music community, and his relatively sparing release schedule up until now speaks volumes of relative silence. Analog Aquarium, rather, feels like Wilhite picking up some pieces of his world and locking them together, almost Tetris-like, in as rough and ready a way as his productions. I don’t want this to sound as though it’s not a considered record, but any consideration is balanced with an almost insouciant freedom, allowing Wilhite to be as deceptively laissez-faire as he wants. But like most truly great albums, in whatever genre, debut or not, Analog Aquarium engenders conflicted responses, and asks unexpected questions of your ears