DJ Bone: Choice (We Can Feel)
Subject Detroit Digital

DJ Nasty: The Immortal EP
Subject Detroit Records

Niko Marks: Voice Box Detroit
Subject Detroit Records

This trio of releases from the fabulous Subject Detroit camp starts with a state-of-the-art digital two-tracker from label overseer DJ Bone. Oozing soul, “Choice (We Can Feel)” opens with light-footed keyboard melodies thrumming atop tribal drum patterns alongside of which a “We Can Feel” vocal sample, warm pads, and snaking bass synth line surface. The track nurtures an hypnotic vibe throughout its first half before loosening the reins during the second when a kick drum elbows its way into position to drive the cut home. Bone masterfully weaves elements together, dropping certain ones here and adding new ones there. Radically different in character, “Activist” opts for a slippery tech-house attack that finds Bone subtly modifying the groove elements and vocal refrain (“Activist, Revolution”) with delay effects before a stately electronic theme intones repeatedly in the background. As the clipped vocal fades in and out and the hi-hats echo into the distance, Bone works in funky keyboard punctuations and anchoring claps to sweeten the track with old-school house flavour. Stylistically, the tracks are like night and day but both testify strongly to the producer's ample artistic gifts.

It's anyone guess whether the title of DJ Nasty's release refers to himself or the music but, no matter, it's the tunes that count, and The Immortal's got five of'em. Sparked by a menacing piano motif and an 808-driven pulse, “Dirty Deeds” turns heads with a viral fusion of hip-hop, electro-funk, and ghetto-tech that sees a female chorus drawling seductive verses (“Close your eyes, I'll set you free / Satisfy your every need”). The throwdown's catchy as hell and, at just three minutes, over in a flash. While your head's still spinning, “Electrifying Mojo” kicks in with a biting Kraftwerk-via-Detroit groove sharp enough to slice meat. For added alien flavour, Nasty spritzes the driving electro-funk rhythms and gurgling bass patterns with wooshes, warbly synth touches, and squiggly accents before “The Final Countdown” hauls out a cavernous sub-bass for an electro groove that Nasty polishes with a dancing synth ostinato, smears, and percolating background colour. Even wilder, the flip's “Cosmic Orgasm” is a jittery electro-banger whose passionated squeals call to mind Demon Seed, the 1977 film where Susan Harris, a scientist's wife (played by Julie Christie), copulates with a computer. The hard-hitting closer, “Put the Needle on the Record,” works an old-school B-boy vibe into its slow-burning electro for a Molotov cocktail of female rapping and crushing beats. A dizzying collection, The Immortal's as far removed from Bone's techno as could possibly be imagined.

Niko Marks gets, well, full marks for his stunning Voice Box Detroit, which splits four cuts between classic vocal workouts and future-techno. We're in heavenly house territory with “I Can't Stop,” an impossibly soulful cut that augments its Rhodes-kissed swing with a delectably impassioned male vocal. Powered by a tight drum beat and warm bass support, it's the kind of joyous track one wishes would never end. Any disappointment that it does is soundly mitigated by the onset of “All About Love,” a sprinting tech-house colossus that unites silken synths, pulsating bass riffs, and dizzying melodic fragments into a light-speed club anthem (don't miss the late-inning breakdown where the bottom-feeding bass line gets its moment in the spotlight). Marks then goes deep in the wistful “Bring Back the Soul,” a raw tribal-house slammer whose soulful vocals (the lead a bit reminiscent of Kool & the Gang's James “J.T.” Taylor) plead for the return of “the soul of house music” (the track's most beautiful moments come when the voices swell into a melancholy choir). Looking forward this time, “Technology” strafes a swinging electro-funk beat with declamatory horns and acid bass effects for an earthy exercise in future-funk. Tempo change-ups suggesting a DJ at play (at one point the track slows to a dub-like crawl) make the piece feel more like an experiment—an interesting piece but one overshadowed by the natural beauty of “I Can't Stop.” Nevertheless, the release—like all Subject Detroit releases it seems—stands out from the ever-growing techno crowd.

November 2009