P-Ben: Influence

Somewhat of a contradiction in terms, the act of listening to a dance album seems a little bit like admiring photographs of exquisitely prepared culinary dishes. And yet just as the latter can be appreciated on both visual and appetitive grounds, so too can a dance album such as P-Ben's Influence be appreciated as music clearly conceived with dancefloor functionality in mind as well as for its aesthetic qualities.

A DJ and producer from the south of France, P-Ben caps a series of highly regarded EP releases on DJ 3000's Motech imprint with the debut long-player. The producer's well-schooled in both house and techno genres, as evidenced by the way his material seamlessly threads Chicago and Detroit influences into his high-energy productions. That Influence is intended to be experienced as an artist album is intimated by the presence of a sparkling, synthesizer-rich ambient intro, but thereafter the focus is solidly on uptempo club material as P-Ben rolls out one breathless cut after another.

Interestingly, the first groove-based cut, “Fifteen Years There was Bones,” is more rooted in funk, electro, and hip-hop than techno or house, but perhaps P-Ben purposefully sequenced the eleven-track album as such to ease the listener into the hour-long set gradually. Influence starts to come into clearer focus with the advent of the third piece, “From a South Place,” a burbling blend of surging house swing and old-school techno thrust, and “Old Soul Music,” an equally powerful house jam. An exercise in slow-build, Influence powers its way through the stormers “Good News” and “Analog Trip” until it reaches its culmination in the seventh track, “This Song Is The Way.” Nowhere is the discord between listening in repose and physical engagement more conspicuous than during this anthemic show-stopper, where, buoyed by a thunderous house pulse, a preacher's repeated exhortations (“House was our release, house was our sanctuary, house was our prayer / Can you feel it, like I feel it...”) rouse his cheering audience to mounting levels of ecstasy. Presented with such material, it's well-nigh impossible to remain seated.

Though the tracks that follow “This Song Is The Way” can't help but feel anti-climactic, they signify no drop in quality. One comes away from P-Ben's album impressed by its superior craft and polish, and just as much as one might be moved by the tracks' rhythms, one is also appreciative of the high gloss of their design.

March 2015