Theo Parrish has built a career on the fringes of house music across the last decade, this is his first full-lengther since 2007 – and boy is this full – a two-hour double-album with most of the songs stretching up to 10 minutes, the glorious Be In Yo Self stretching to 13 minutes.
Parrish’s sound is so many things – in fact it’s so many different sounds, from hints of the church and jazz (Yo Self has a gospel-funk feel) through to stripped-back, sinewy post-house grooves like the frankly frightening opener, Drive, with its subwoofer-tweaking rumble. So much of American Intelligence feels like it was designed – primarily – to rock your world on the headphones. Other times you’ll find Kraftwerk-like grooves for straight-line driving.
I reviewed the 12” in anticipation of this album, just two tracks (Footwork/Tympanic Warfare) that felt like an entire album – those same two songs are here, and remarkably, they don’t even feel like highlights, simply part of a moist-shimmer collection of clipped-funk workouts. Tracks like Cypher Delight exist on paper as little more than a drum-machine setting spilling over past demo-mode, but live with this track…take it for a walk, let it take you back through its history as part of Detroit and Chicago’s dance-music pasts.
Then there’s Life Spice, a loping crawl where a single keyboard string line (it sounds like it’s been sampled from Madonna’s Vogue) is stretched and slowed and pierces a nodding bass-line as formerly renegade snares are whipped into shape behind it.
Welcome Back is the album’s anomaly – at just three minutes. It’s a DJ Shadow-like lurk past hip-hop’s back-alleys, Fallen Funk’s title warns you, possibly, of the claustrophobic darkness as a relentless drum pattern is danced all over by nearly-techno vamps, the ten-minute Ah arrives, mid-album, like a balm. A set of soothing soul voices quietly coo over a rubbery synth spark, it’s a lovely comedown.
Somehow Parrish is able to, er, dance between dark, paranoid slabs of future-funk and throwbacks to the late-80s/early-90s dance music scene that informed his earliest triumphs. It’s all at once a drum-heavy thrill-ride of extrapolated jazz and a slowed, late-night neo-soul album.
You could imagine Creepcake being something from any of the D’Angelo albums – it’s just missing that croon. You could start running between lampposts late at night with the creeping- creepy – I Enjoy Watching You and its staccato drum-skips looping and luring you into a false defence of insecurity.
American Intelligence is enormous – too big to take in over one sitting, but bafflingly beautiful, knowingly eccentric and yet somehow, within and around its massive sprawl, there’s this insular closeness, a mood (eerie at times, celebratory at others) that brings so much in the way of magic.