Traxx: Faith

Though he's issued numerous twelves, Faith is the debut Traxx full-length from Melvin Oliphant III, the one-time member of Chicago-based collective The Dirty Criminals (whose members variously included Charles Manier, Stephen Hitchell, Tadd Mullinix, and Jamal Moss, among others). Though there's a rough-edged character to the music that proudly declaims its analog, old-school roots, there's nothing stale about the material, especially when Traxx serves it up with an impassioned fervour that other producers would do well to emulate (that he proudly asserts “This is house” at the close of “Down 2 House” testifies to the strength of his commitment to the form).

The album opens with the proverbial calm before the storm, the brooding “Introspective,” before Traxx goes to work in “Violet Epoch,” a steamy blend of jacking beats, swollen synth motifs, staccato claps, ringing cymbal accents, and slippery hi-hat patterns—Traxx's jacking (“Jakbeat,” if you prefer) Chicago house style in microcosm. The raw swing of “Down 2 House” likewise riffs on classic house signifiers by slathering a burning electro-funk groove with chattering percussive accents, vocal cut-ups, and ghostly chants. “A Heart Alone” ventures into the upper spheres with a radiant synth melody singing a serpentine and rather melancholic song while the churn of percolating tribal rhythms roars below. The inclusion of Nancy Fortune's sultry vocalizing on “My Soul” briefly spins Faith into another dimension, and assorted guest shots surface during the collection's second half: produced by TNT (Tadd Mullinix and Todd Osborn) and remodelled by Traxx, “Enka” serves up the most explicitly acid-inflected track on the album, while “Body Control” (produced by D'Marc Cantu and reshaped by Traxx) works hammering claps and a laconic title utterance into a skeletal lather.

Fans of Mullinix's work will obviously find much to cotton to in Traxx's material, as both artists share a predilection for tracks filled with multi-layered weaves of wildly syncopated patterns. Anchored by the stabilizing pulse of the kick drum, soul vocal fragments, percussive patterns, and synth melodies intertwine into labyrinthine wholes of hypnotic design— Faith's “Parametric Melody” as good an example of any on the album. In fact, the album's “Cosmic ZigZag” isn't, formally speaking, a Traxx track but one credited to Saturn V, the outfit that partners Traxx with Mullinix; unfortunately, the track lacks the tautness of the other cuts and largely spins its wheels interspersing chants of the title and a meandering keyboard solo over a repetitive base, making it one of the album's least satisfying tracks (with the album slightly longer than eighty minutes, the track could have been pruned without altering the overall impression). The later “XTC for Love,” which features Mullinix again, this time under the James T Cotton name, fares better in its layering of ecstatic soul exhortations over a stuttering rhythm base, though its twelve-minute running time is excessive. Ultimately such lapses register as imperfections more than fatal flaws, in large part due to the conviction Oliphant III brings to the material. His affection for the form is so clear, the album can be heard as a veritable Chicago house manifesto.

November 2009