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Young Smoke - Space Zone

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Artist: Young Smoke

Album: Space Zone

Label: Planet Mu

Review date: Jan. 22, 2013

Much has been written about Young Smoke’s youth. The Chicago producer, born David Davis, is still a couple of years from being able to legally sip a cocktail in the clubs where he spins. But age hasn’t stopped Davis from getting signed to veteran electronic label Planet Mu. (Nor, if track titles such as “Liquid Drug” and “High Den A Mother Fucka” are to be taken literally, has his teenage status kept him from twisting his mind in other ways.)

Space Zone, Davis’s long-playing debut, fits comfortably within the footwork style which Chicago has defined — and Planet Mu has done much to publicize. Yet, the album isn’t simply a recent convert’s addition to a proven scene. Taken alongside records from genre ambassadors such as Traxman and DJ Rashad, Young Smoke comes across, indeed, with a youthful, spacey take on the sweat-and-blurred-body-parts rhythms frequented by his compatriots.

A seemingly equal inspiration are classic video games. Davis sounds enamored of the proto-futuristic blips and bleeps of Space Invaders and the like — even though many such titles saw their heyday a decent chunk of time before he was born. The eponymous opening track features a synthesized voice calling “welcome to the space zone” over woozy keys, pad-punches of thick bass and a an arcade orchestra of taxed joysticks and slapped buttons. Similarly, “Destroy Him My Robots” features enough video game-worthy sounds and samples to have listeners reaching into their pockets for another pile of quarters.

Given that Davis has come of age in a primarily digital era, it’s surprising how vintage much of the album sounds. Part of this is due to source material which is far more Mario Bros. than Call of Duty. Additionally, Davis’s reliance on synths — as evoked by the keys illustrated on the album’s Aliens-meets-Hawkwind album cover — keeps the proceedings from becoming overly defined either by the BPM rush of footwork or game controller geekery. This fact gives further strength to the partnership with Planet Mu. At moments, the blippier, mellow tracks can bring to mind elements of label head Mike Paradinas’s work as µ-Ziq.

Occasionally, Davis misfires — the skipping-CD beat of “Heat Impact” lacks enough to make the track much more than a welcome album-ender. However, more often than not, the final product is engaging, both when aimed for the dance floor and during more meditative moments. While Space Zone may not warrant the type of repeat spins necessary to make it a classic debut, it’s difficult to find fault in Young Smoke’s impressive, fresh-faced, talent.

By Ethan Covey

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