VA: Above The City

Two years in the making, Above The City, the premiere compilation from the LA-based Culprit imprint, is designed to evoke the warm vibe of an imagined Culprit Sessions set (perhaps one of its Sunday afternoon rooftop parties) that begins in the early afternoon and proceeds, hour by hour, into the evening. In keeping with the concept, eight artists appear, with the first taking the stage at 1 pm and the other seven appearing in the hours following. The music, too, reflects the day's progression, with the initial tracks more laid-back and jazzy and the later ones more energized and club-ready. In general, the tracks are atmospheric house meditations that the producers, ranging from Los Angeles's own Clovis and Nikko Gibler to Italian producers Lula Circus and Nico Lahs, animate with deeply propulsive and funk-ridden grooves.

Given the hour-by-hour makeup of the release, we'll comment on the recording in a similar track-by-track spirit. Hitting the hypothetical stage at 1 in the afternoon, Clovis starts things off with the slow-burning haze of “The Jean Seberg Special” and evoking Paris more than LA in the process, truth be told—how could it be otherwise when Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo are heard conversing (their dialogue lifted, presumably, from Godard's 1960 film À bout de souffle, known on these shores, of course, as Breathless) amidst the languorous colour produced by harp strums, a jazzy trumpet solo, and the woodsy groan of an acoustic bass. Nico Lahs upholds Clovis's laid-back vibe with “Lost in My Soul,” a funky bass-thumper suffused with rich atmosphere and elevated by a breezy vocal hook. The energy level then rises when the harder-grooving “You Don't Know” by Londoners Mark Chambers & Soho appears, with soulful vocal fragments strewn across a funky house pulse with a little hiccup in its stride. Coming on at 4 pm, Anthony Collins digs deep into “Inside,” a trippy floor-filler warmed by synth swirls and soulful female vocals, while Nikko Gibler, armed with a thudding bass presence and an enticing vocal melody, plunges even deeper for the sexy slinkiness of “Hide From No One.” An irrepressible electro bassline is the primary hook in Lula Circus's poppy “She Loves Me,” though the vocals and strings are alluring, too, and the funky bass line powering Death on the Balcony's wistful dub-house setting, “Nothing Stays the Same,” is its high point, as well. Above The City saves the best for last, however, in the stunner Lee Curtiss & Seth Troxler trot out at 8 pm. A buoyant bass swing helps “Spending Time” leap into position almost immediately, but the pleasure quotient increases when the chugging bass line pushes the track to ever-more delirious levels.

It's a bit of a shame the release wasn't conceived as a double-disc set, as the CD ends at 9 pm just as the party's getting underway. One imagines that a hypothetical second disc would have carried on at an intense level for five or six cuts before easing out with a pair of calmer after-hours pieces. The release as it is, however, is certainly satisfying enough, and its warm California summer vibe adds significantly to its appeal.

November 2011