Put simply, the fact that Eric Estornel's Maceo Plex album Life Index appears on Crosstown Rebels is a veritable assurance of quality, and the American-born producer lives up to expectations with a nearly eighty-minute set of hard-grooving house that oozes funk and soul. Though he's issued material over the past eleven years under the aliases Maetrik, Mariel Ito, Plaex, Eric Entity, and Tali Wackas (as well as his birth name), he reserves the Maceo Plex guise for his most house-leaning side. That the album was recorded following his relocation from Dallas, Texas to Valencia, Spain might explain in part how the material comes to feel so effortlessly relaxed and earthy. Its body music character is exemplified by the producer's own description of the album as a “twelve-page excerpt out of a Kama Sutra book but set to beats.” It's telling too that past influences like Model 500 and Kenny Larkin are now joined on the new material by funky echoes of Parliament, Funkadelic, Isolee, and Luomo.
The album's sequenced like a club mix on the CD, with one cut flowing deliciously into the next (the digital and vinyl versions, on the other hand, present them as separate tracks). Skip the superfluous intro (“I'm A Metaphor,” basically two minutes of robotically altered recitation) and proceed directly to the sexy house jam “Gravy Train,” as sublimely grooving an opener as one could wish for. Estornel digs into the tune's bass rumble and analog synth gurgle and squeal like a man possessed, and the cut stays deep and tasty for the full measure of its six-minute run. If “Sleazy E” sounds a tad reminscent of “Billie Jean,” it should, given that it borrows the famous rolling bass line from the Michael Jackson classic. Flex still ends up “Sleazy E” his own by snaking shuddering strings over the tune's lithe beat flow and by exhorating the bass midway through to kick the groove up a notch.“Dexter's Flight” gets a serious Detroit groove on, soloing tenor and soprano saxes occupy the front line during the strutting throwdown “Silo,” and changing things up in a different way, “Vibe Your Love” is elevated by Peter King's graceful vocal riff on a classic Stevie Wonder record. Soulful cuts like “The Feelin'” and “Bring It Back” (with pleas to dance music capitals like Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Berlin to “bring it back”—“it” meaning soul, presumably) prove to be irresistible club fodder, and bass-thumping funk jams like “You & Me” and “Your Style” (featuring vocalist Maceo's bedroom drawl “Girl, I love your style”) are equally fabulous and sexy. Throughout this exceptional collection, Estornel throws down in a way that sounds so natural and effortless, one wonders why other producers aren't able to make as strong an impression with their own material.