Detroit Swindle: Boxed Out
Dirt Crew

Sometimes it's apparent within the first few moments that a recording will be one of superior quality. A case in point is Boxed Out, the debut full-length collection from Amsterdam-based duo Lars Dales and Maarten Smeets (aka Detroit Swindle), and specifically its opening cut, “B.Y.O.,” a clubby funk-house instrumental that breezily bolts from the gate with a confidence and swagger that tells the listener he/she is in for a pleasurable ride and in good hands. Having laid the groundwork for Boxed Out with a string of EP releases on Dirt Crew (e.g., 2012's Nothing Else Matters, featuring the breakout track “Jick Rames”), Freerange, Tsuba and their own Heist imprint, Dales and Smeets solidify their reputation with an encompassing thirteen-cut collection featuring deep house, leftfield hip-hop, club bangers, and soulful vocal jams.

The obvious danger in tackling such a wide range of styles is the lack of clarity in the Detroit Swindle persona that could result. Yet despite the album's breadth, a group identity still asserts itself, with Dales and Smeets often grounding their tracks with warm, shuffle-based house grooves and infusing their material with garage, soul, and Detroit and Chicago influences.

On the vocal front, smooth crooning by American soul singer Mayer Hawthorne elevates “64 Ways,” with Dales and Smeets also nicely sweetening the song's shuffling house swing with Rhodes and synth textures, while “Thoughts of She” derives some of its forward drive from a sample of soul singer Alice Russell (lifted from Quantic Soul Orchestra's “Pushing On”). Like Hawthorne, Berlin-based, Ghanese-Canadian soul singer Sandra Amarie takes the sexy swagger of “Center of Gravity” to a higher level, especially in beatless interludes where her voice really has a chance to shine (“I want my baby by my side / His body makin' me come alive...”).

The instrumental cuts hold up well also, with different tracks taking stabs at sultry disco (“Monkey Wrench”), late-night seduction (“You, Me, Here, Now”), Dilla-esque hip-hop (“For the Love of…”), and steamy house (the acid-soaked “Shotgun”)—and a brief flute solo even pushes its way in amongst the slamming groove and gospel-like vocalizations of “He's Just This Guy, You Know?” But as good as it is on quality grounds, the release is admittedly overlong at seventy-eight minutes, and some tracks (e.g., “The Fat Rat,” “Huh, What!”) could have been omitted without compromising the album to any crippling degree. Don't, however, be thrown by throwaway track titles such as “He's Just This Guy, You Know?” and “Huh, What!”: anything but cobbled-together, Boxed Out holds up as both a rewarding club album and headphones listen.

March 2014