Kenny Larkin: Keys, Strings, Tambourines
Planet E

Bizarre though it may sound, Detroit producer Kenny Larkin is currently devoting almost as much time pursuing a career in LA doing standup comedy and independent film-making as he is to music-making. Let's hope the pursuit isn't so successful it dissuades him from issuing more material as polished as Keys, Strings, Tambourines, his first album since 2004's Funkfaker and, by his own reckoning, his most dance-floor-oriented album to date. That it's also the first artist full-length to appear on Carl Craig's Detroit-based Planet E Communications in some time indicates just how special a release it is. Inspired by Larkin's love of electronic music, the material oozes imagination, heart, and soul, and Keys, Strings, Tambourines often sounds like an intoxicating fusion of West Coast warmth and sleek Detroit-styled aerodynamics.

“Androgenous” opens the album beautifully with a light-speed pulse, stabbing chords, and a futuristic synthesizer melody that gleams and sparkles magnificently. The material is so confidently executed that from its first moment we feel we're in the presence of a genre master. In full-on club mode, tangy Basic Channel smears spill onto a royally swinging house pulse in the equally-strong “Wake Me.” “Glob” (Larkin's personal favourite) scales a glorious house peak over the course of its eight-minute run while psychedelic fragments assail a brooding piano theme in the title cut's stoked techno groove. Need examples of Larkin's imaginative approach? Try “Drone” where a spacey sci-fi melody repeatedly plummets from the skies to confront vocal pants and the swish and swill of a percussive shaker, or perhaps the marimbas that tumble over the steamy Latin-jazz-house charge of “Vibin'.” Weaknesses? Admittedly, there are a few: the surging house track “You Are... (Light)” is marred by Larkin's own over-the-top proselytizing, plus the album's overlong at seventy-four minutes. But broached as a whole, Keys, Strings, Tambourines' quality level is still inarguably high.

July 2008