Pursuit Grooves: Frantically Hopeful
Tectonic Recordings

That sound you hear is the sound of Pursuit Grooves' new release blowing up across the land—or at least so it should be if there's any justic in the world. Why? Because Frantically Hopeful is the kind of next-level release that singlehandedly twists a genre into a slightly new shape—the challenge in this case involves figuring out what that genre might be. The album's a post-everything melting-pot that seemingly distills all of the music Vanese Smith, a native of New York via Washington, DC, has absorbed into a distinctively dizzying cocktail. Hip-hop, soul, funk, acid, house, garage, and techno swim within her dense voodoo mix, until the whole becomes inseparable from its parts, and one guesses that Smith might be as inclined to cite Alice Coltrane and Sly Stone as influences as Flying Lotus and Ikonika. It's also properly speaking her debut solo full-length, though her work has appeared on a small number of earlier recordings, including Beat Dimensions Vol 1 (Rush Hour) plus a self-titled debut album by GuSHee, her collaborative project with Toronto-based producer Pro-Ef, in March 2011 on Otnorot Recordings (filling out the picture, Smith began creating work in her teens and after completing a degree in film at Vassar College moved to New York City to work at a number of recording studios and labels). Frantically Hopeful isn't, however, her Tectonic debut, as she issued Fox Trot Mannerisms in 2010, and neither is it dubstep of the kind some have come to associate with the Bristol-based Tectonic.

The marvelous opener, “Revolutionaries,” is representative of the music's head-spinning tone. One struggles to get one's bearings as the vocal melodies and tribal groove criss-cross, each boldly out of sync with the other and the listener desperately trying to locate the downbeat. “Type Send Universe” dizzies with its swirling loops of vocals and percussion, its mix so dense one almost misses the funk bass accents that pop up amidst the vortex of voices, synths, and beats that otherwise dominates. Smith turns MC for the sub-lunar acid bleeps and staccato pulses of “I Sink” and brings a 21st -century soul-ballad vibe to the languorous vocal musings, bleepy synth figures, and skeletal broken beats of “Peace Talks.” Acid gurgle flows like lava alongside the titular chants of “Transformation of Consciousness,” which otherwise radiates with a skewed flow of tribal beats and synth pulsations. “Mars is Rising,” “Bedazzled,” and “Bailout” ooze a psychedelic, off-kilter vibe that could find them mistaken for Flying Lotus productions. At album's end, Smith overlays the laid-back electro-soul of “What About” with French film dialogue (is that Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in Godard's À bout de soufflé?) to suitably disorienting effect.

The album overflows with imagination and ideas, so many in fact that trying to wrap one's head around them requires multiple listens, and exudes a freshness in its beat constructions and compositional design that verges on remarkable. In a strange way, its forty-five minutes of fabulous future-funk hits with a similar kind of force as Roni Size's New Forms must have when it appeared in 1997. For convenience sake, Frantically Hopeful might find itself slotted into the dubstep bin, but truth be told it more deserves to be labeled art-music more than anything else. It's the sound of Pursuit Grooves pushing beyond dancefloor-related categorizations into realms considerably more experimental and innovative than the norm. Though “Attention” includes Smith chanting “Can I have your attention?,” no such appeal is necessary when the music is so arresting.

August 2011