Basic Soul Unit: Under The Same Sky

Toronto-based Stuart Li attracted a deserved amount of attention when his highly regarded debut collection of Basic Soul Unit material, Motional Response, appeared on Still Music in 2012. Li now returns three years later with an equally forceful full-length follow-up, this time on the Dutch Dekmantel imprint. The Basic Soul Unit project's roots are solidly in techno and house as well as heavily influenced and inspired by Detroit and Chicago traditions, but Li's no lightweight clone or mindless follower. The new recording's ten rugged tracks show him asserting his own voice alongside his celebrated brethren whilst still positioning himself solidly within the genres' traditions.

Roaring from the gate, “We All Want to Believe” sets the tone with a high-velocity salvo spiked by female yelps and a steamrolling groove. Without destabilizing a given track's solid 4/4 foundation, Li stokes stimulating fire in “Without Fears” by sprinkling radiant melodic phrases and synthesizer dazzle across its booming kick drums, snares, and hi-hats. While never straying too far from the genres' long-standing conventions, he nevertheless manages to invigorate them through the sheer force of his imagination and the vitality of his music. “Landlocked,” for instance, thunders with customary techno force, yet Li twists the form into new shape by elastically fashioning its kinetic beat pattern into a stutter-funk exercise in syncopation.

He's also not afraid to let other styles work their way into his material, as shown when traces of trap and jack seep into “The Rift Between” and “Fate in Hand,” respectively, and industrial grime bleeds into “Until the End Comes” and “Unwavered.” Even so, such additions are hardly necessary when the tracks' swirling cross-currents of percussion are already so spellbinding. It's a solid sixty-four-minute ride from start to finish, even if an occasional cut such as the irrepressible “Temptress” stands out from the crowd. In this case, it's hard to decide whether it's the cut's vocal-powered squawk or the proggy synth details that are more ear-catching, though choosing isn't necessary when both are so plentiful.

November 2015