VA: In The Dark: Detroit Is Back
Still Music

How welcome it is to encounter the generally uplifting In The Dark: Detroit Is Back (Still Music's sequel to In The Dark: The Soul Of Detroit, first released in 2005 and repressed in 2012) when so much of what's reported about Detroit is suffused with gloom and despair. Every news item about the city, it seems, is focused on the city's economic woes and its overall decay. Still Music's new collection, however, argues that at least on musical grounds the city is as vital and progressive a force as it's ever been. Drawing a connecting line from the inaugural chapter to the second, some contributors from the first reappear, among them Marcellus Pittman, Delano Smith, Rick Wilhite, Amp Fiddler, and Keith Worthy, while others are new to the series—Terrence Dixon, DJ 3000, Gerald Mitchell, Alex Israel, Patrice Scott, and others.

Certainly it's not easy to get a straightforward sense of the city's musical identity based on the release, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The listener comes away from In The Dark: Detroit Is Back mindful of it as a glorious melting-pot of styles, a place where techno as well as house, R'n'B, soul, and funk are plentiful. As if to ensure the message gets through loud and clear, proceed directly to Delano Smith's “A Message For The DJ” with its repeated “I'm a house head forever / At least until I die” pronouncement.

Granted the desirable pole position, Mike Huckaby's brother Craig makes the most of it with “The Answer,” a bass-powered funk dynamo that gets a major boost from its marked live feel. Some tracks, such as Pittman's “Make It Work” and Israel's “Cash Neutral,” exude a luscious, synth-heavy exuberance characteristic of Carl Craig's output, while the grooving jazz feel so central to house music's swing emerges powerfully in cuts by Wilhite (“Magic Water”) and Mitchell (“Fly Like Eagles”). Dixon's two-part futurama “The Fall Guy” could have fit snugly onto his 2012 Tresor collection From The Far Future Pt. 2; mention must made, too, of D.L. Jones' “Lonely,” which at times plays like some bold, Dilla-fied take on vocal R'n'B. Crisp, electrified house jams (Israel's “Bubble Wrap 106,” Gabbamonkey's “Underlying Dreams”), joyous soul anthems (Patchworks' “Celebration”), squiggly acid-techno (Tony Ollivierra's “Hemoglobin”), and percussion-rich body-shakers that bump and groove (Scott's “Cosmic Rituals,” Worthy's “Cyclops”) also appear.

Predictably not every track knocks it out of the park, so to speak. Working Morpheus dialogue from The Matrix into Mike Clark's “Free Your Mind” would have been a fresher idea around the time of the film's 1999 release than in 2013, for instance, and some tracks, such as Raybone Jones & Jon Easley's nine-minute “As She Moves,” are overlong. Still, at twenty-four tracks and two-and-a-half hours, there's ample material to dig into, and most of it rewards one's time and attention. If it's not the definitive Detroit collection, In The Dark: Detroit Is Back certainly provides more than its share of pleasurable moments as well as confirms that Detroit's electronic music scene is still thriving.

November 2013