Review : John Roberts - Glass Eights
PitchforkJohn Roberts isn't mysterious so much as inconspicuous. The Berlin-based, Ohio-born producer would be the great young hope of any scene that didn't chew through great young hopes like goldfish crackers. So instead, after four 12"'s and on the heels of his first full-length album, he's the kid with the no-name name who's really good at deep house.
"Good at deep house" and not "techno wunderkind" because, well, Roberts' skills often seem less like those of a musician than those of an athlete-- a disciplined participant playing a varying but finite game. What was notable about Roberts' early 12"'s was not their singularity or adherence to a breaking style, but their studied execution. Roberts wasn't just dropping house music layups like piano chords and dubby textures; he was performing all manner of subtle and difficult moves, like budding noir atmosphere, pitch-shifted vocals-as-percussion, tension-massing tweaks. Roberts' productions are spellbindingly clear, crystal in their intent and focus.
There is something, then, almost inevitable about Glass Eights, Roberts' debut album for his Dial records. It opens with a shattered piano note and a pattering drum; one minute later, when a tiny vocal sample and electric keyboards drop "Lesser" into a well-paced groove, Roberts provides that rare moment in which both bobbing your head and shrugging your shoulders are appropriate reactions. Simultaneously: "This is excellent," and, "We knew he could do this." Roberts chose to emphasize his compositional skills on Glass Eights. Pianos, violins, and lithe beats rule the tracks, which never seem to stir with overeager rhythms or combust into white noise. There are times when the whole can seem less than the sum of its parts. "Porcelain" features bright, ordered drum patterns, a funny little modular synth melody, and an out-of-nowhere steel drum interlude; the total is passable techno. Six minutes of it.
Still, there are only a handful of producers capable of Glass Eights. Sometimes Roberts seems like he's trying to stimulate his tracks solely via the overtones of his chords; call it harmonic house. On cuts like "Pruned" and "Ever or Not" he searches for the midway point between Carl Craig and Philip Glass, the variety provided by listening to determine on which side he errs. Elsewhere he delights in dispensing with one of deep house's go-to signifers-- "warm"-- and sends his tracks out to shiver until they seem austere ("Interlude [Telephone]" and "Navy Blue")....full text
ResidentadvisorEarlier this year, Dial released a cheeky ode to the Chicago house music that's always served as such a foundational element to the label's sound in Efdemin's, well, naturally, Chicago. But, frankly, the Windy City might be even more relevant in setting the historical site for the much-anticipated debut album of Berlin-based American John Roberts, Glass Eights. Following a debut on John Daly's Feel Music and singles on Dial and its sister-label Laid, Roberts has quickly established himself as a young producer adept at designing almost classically textured and intricate Chicago deep house. Though certainly grounded in mournful or melancholy overtones, Roberts' best cuts exude a kind of blissful sadness, a contentment to linger in sorrow that owes a lot to the emotional release of genres like blues and jazz. Those touchstones can be heard more explicitly on Glass Eights, which folds jazzy grand piano runs, violins, upright bass and funky organs into Roberts' complex candlelit house.
Melded together from various samples and live instrumentation, the first thing one notes about Glass Eights is its fluidity. If perhaps it won't lead to any singles as strong as, say, "Blame," the gain here is in how nimbly Roberts constructs an evocative narrative across the album's ten tracks. As such, Glass Eights is, first and foremost, an album lover's delight. Though Roberts' music can sometimes seem kind of chilly from the surface—almost stately and academic in tone—that's a quality undermined by how comforting it becomes when lived in for a while.
In fact, though I hesitate to employ the term, Roberts' approach here seems almost symphonic; remove any of its passages and the entire record would feel as though a critical segue had been missed, whether it's the muffled vinyl crackle and musty piano loop of opener "Lesser," or the faint tinkling bells and choppy hip-hop beats of "Interlude (Telephone)." Roberts revels, simply, in sound, and much of the album's texture is augmented by his usage of vinyl hissing, out-of-tune piano or a bass backbone that sounds almost bouncy....full text
JunodownloadListening to the debut album by US producer John Roberts, it’s hard to believe that he is still in his 20s. Usually, it’s the case that such accomplished, detailed works are the result of years spent locked away in the studio, but in this instance, Roberts seems to have arrived out of nowhere with a mature palette. It’s audible from the get-go on opening track “Lesser”, where the sound of a hissing record proves the introduction for plaintive piano keys and raw, dubby beats. A similar musical approach prevails on “Ever or Not”, where a classical piano dominates a gentle house groove and with “Pruned”, a wide-eyed composition populated by rich yet foreboding keys and haunting woodwind, underscored by snappy drums.
Roberts tells a fascinating story on the title track, where what sounds like a cello is combined with subtle keys for a gloriously seductive dancefloor burner. Just in case any listener is under the illusion that Roberts is a virtuoso who has suddenly stumbled upon house music, he drops the wigged out acid and clipped drums of “Porcelain”, while his ability to squeeze new sounds and shapes from the long-existing sound is audible on “Dedicated”. Set against the backdrop of lashing rain and rolling thunder, Roberts’ heavy drums rumble in to accompany the kind of melancholic organ solo that only a great like Portable is capable of. That his debut album receives those kinds of comparisons proves that John Roberts is onto something very special....full text
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