Osborne: Osborne

Being less familiar with Todd Osborn's music than other Spectral Sound artists, I'll admit I came to his Osborne anticipating some highly personalized variant of hard-edged techno. His simply-titled release turns out to be a total and refreshing surprise, a collection of uplifting and highly melodic house tracks brimming with lush arrangements and buoyed by an unabashed spirit of joyous uplift.

Much of the album centers on deep house and the ecstatic spirit which one associates with the genre (elevated by soulful vocalizing, “Ruling” may be the most glorious example), though there are forays into other genres, such as “L8,” whose jacking acid attack and drum machine roar calls to mind the James T. Cotton style of Osborn amigo Tadd Mullinix, and of course “Afrika,” a pumping Afro-house mix of call-and-response chants, claps, and percussion. Given the album's stylistic breadth, it doesn't surprise that its original title was Multitasking (Osborn's definitely a man of all trades: to create the album's material, he apparently wrote his own music software on a hand-built computer).

The opener “16th Stage” inaugurates the album splendidly with a gorgeous Rhodes melody whose hypnotic potential Osborn exploits through repetition and deepens with multiple layers of warm synth swirls, percussion, and vocal accents. Drawing upon the feelings of abandon and liberation that go hand-in-hand with nightclubbing, the aptly-titled “Downtown” swings with a Technicolor mix of chugging house chords, handclaps, and willowy synth atmosphere. In “Detune,” heavenly chord progressions ship its synth-fueled tech-house euphoria into the stratosphere while the brief but beautiful sway “Suffer” merges iridescent synth melodies with a crisp funk groove.

While there's no question about Osborne's overall high quality, the album is weakened by an excessive, seventy-eight-minute running time (some of the material was issued previously on past 12-inch releases such as Afrika and Outta Sight). Certainly “Our Definition of a Breakdown,” a silly lesson in track construction replete with voice-over that briefly derails the album's flow, should have been omitted, and a few of the less impressive tracks could have been excluded too (e.g., “Air Pistol,” which spins its rubbery techno tires for five modestly diverting minutes, and the light-footed whirligig techno excursion “Evenmore”). With some careful editing, Osborne would weigh in as an exemplary hour-length portrait of the man's considerable talents.

May 2008