Yousef: A Product Of Your Environment
Circus Recordings

A Product of Your Environment is a consistently strong artist album from DJ-producer-label head Yousef Zaher (his second, for the record). Though overlong at seventy-four minutes, the twelve-track collection (on his own Circus Recordings imprint) makes a solid impression due to the high production values and songcraft Zaher brings to its classic house sound. He builds on his own skills by including a number of collaborators in the project, including singers (Candie Payne, Charli Taft, David Williams, Alexander East, and Tom Crew) classical guitarist Neil Campbell, and jazz pianist Gwilym Simcock. In keeping with the album title, Zaher's clearly been influenced not only by the others with whom he's worked but also the global array of club environments he's found himself working within.

The album starts promisingly with “An Old Friend,” a radiant overture heavy on piano and synthesizer whose sunlit spirit bodes well for the journey ahead. Having set the mood nicely with that opener, Yousef gets down to business with “Think Twice,” a strutting deep house banger graced by the soulful vocalizing of Chicago House legend Alexander East. Though lyrically “I See” is undistinguished, the energized track itself is an undeniable highpoint on the release due to the rousing combination of Chari Taft's sultry vocal and Yousef's blazing, horn-driven house backdrop. David Williams also fares well on “Indigo Child,” even if an equal amount of the spotlight shines on jazzy piano playing. Campbell's classical guitar brings a different dimension to Yousef's sound on the evocative “In Fear of Dusk,” which, thanks to some blustery horn playing, is even more dramatic than usual. A number of tracks also find Yousef alone, crafting infectious numbers like the exotic house thumper “Unusual,” jacking high-roller “Beg,” and funky “Feel the Same Thing.”

A Product of Your Environment isn't without its flaws. Aside from the aforementioned issue of album length, not all tracks are equally strong and some are overlong. The suitably amped-up throwdown “Had No Sleep,” for instance, succeeds better on instrumental than vocal grounds, given how much Tom Crew's singing recalls The Human League's Phil Oakey (not the first vocalist choice one would necessarily aspire to pattern oneself after). Though the album's not a game-changer, the weak moments are few and far between on Yousef's well-crafted outing.

October 2012