K-S.H.E.: Routes Not Roots

Routes Not Roots, the debut album by K-S.H.E (Kami-Sakunobe House Explosion), is as audacious and provocative as anything else lining Terre Thaemlitz's discography. The latest project merges Comatonse Recordings' 'Fagjazz' sound with the NY-styled Deep House style Thaemlitz presents at his bi-monthly 'DJ Sprinkles' Deeperama' set at Tokyo 's Club Module. Certainly the one-time New Yorker's move to Japan has enriched his work, adding new dimensions to an already-distinctive oeuvre. He often recasts established genres in unusual manner, a case in point the opening track “Down Home Kami-Sakunobe” which is more country hoedown-raga than straight house. The album's no nonstop groove, however, though some cuts, like “B2B” (‘Brother to Brother'), are essentially dance tracks. Adding variety, Thaemlitz includes a lovely cover of the traditional “Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair,” works in some dreamy vocal house in “Double Secret,” plus makes room in “Head (In My Private Lounge, My Pad)” for piano playing that recalls his Kraftwerk and Gary Numan homages Die Roboter Rubato and Replicas Rubato. At eighty minutes, Routes Not Roots verges on double-album status with two of its twelve tracks (the gospel-flavoured house of “Hobo Train,” “Crosstown”) in the thirteen-minute range.

As those familiar with his work would expect, themes of sexual identity, cultural de-contextualization, STD, and violence emerge throughout, though integrated coyly as opposed to didactically. In “Saki-chan (Pt.1),” for example, any possible discomfort the Japanese Transgendered male's recounting might provoke is eased by the harp backing (interestingly, the harp solo that Thaemlitz lifted from a stock ‘60s effects record is reminiscent of Minnie Ripperton's “Lovin' You,” a song referenced on Lovebomb). He admittedly challenges the listener's patience with “Stand Up”; including a comedian's routine (the subject matter—a true story, incidentally—a violent subway encounter between Thaemlitz, the one-time 'hillbilly gender bender' narrator, and a group of Puerto Rican queens) is an imaginative idea, but the piece is overlong at six minutes and grows wearying. Even so, Routes Not Roots is compelling to say the least, with the new album constituting another fascinating chapter in Thaemlitz's ongoing story.

June 2006