Release Date: 2015 Aug 31
Genre: House / Downbeat
License: CC BY-NC-ND
I’ve been spending a fair amount of time on Sonic Squirrel lately, just getting in touch with the releases that the netlabel community has been coming out with lately. 1981’s Nocturnal is listed as a House / Downbeat release. It’s the type of release that grabs my attention with slick production, and a audio palette that is as inventive as the music itself.
1981’s Nocturnal is Downbeat Goodness
As usual, I had my reservations about this release. Put the word “house” in the description and I cringe a little bit. It’s just one of those automatic reflexes. Fortunately, I was in the mood for creating a long playlist of releases as just kind of wandering through them, so I added this one to the list.
And I have to admit, at some points this was a release that annoyed me to some degree. Tracks like “The Way” and “Vulturno” are the very definition of house music with a disco-like beat that gets on my nerves. But, even with the annoyance of these tracks, there were things that made them interesting: chopped up piano lines, jazz references, shifting percussion mixing, etc. They really made me feel like I was in a smokey club someplace, and I could hear this music playing in the background while a bunch of people were on the dance floor grooving away to the beat.
If the whole release was in a similar style, I would have written it off though: there is a lot of downtempo / house style music with jazz influences. It’s kind of become like Muzak for the club-set. Fortunately for me (at least) this isn’t a one dimensional release. There are tracks like Kraken with a more drum-n-bass style, Papacaidas that has more laid back, shuffle beat than house style, and Limbo with a much more experimental / ambient style than any of the other tracks on this release.
And, I will say, I have to admire the production of this work. There is a sense of depth to this release that often gets lost in the mix-down to a digital format. And there is a very clear sense that 1981 worked hard to make all of the layers and parts clear and well balanced with their own sense of space. In fact, the production is so well done, I thought that several tracks on this release would have fit in with a couple of compilations I bought sometime back… And that got me thinking about something else.
Now, you will have to forgive me for a minute for a bit of a detour in the review…but I think this detour will provide an illuminating illustration. Have you see the TV advertisements for the “new” Buick automobiles this year? Seriously, I am bringing up a car commercial for a reason.
If you haven’t here it is: [Ed. Note: The video is no longer available…just go with the commentary in the next paragraph…]
Now, here’s the point: Buick is trying to sell this as a “Fresh Look”. But the advertisements are horrible. The message I got from them is: now Buick’s look like every other car out there on the road. They are generic. And, in fact, they are so generic and out of touch with current trends that 1990’s rave music is the best music to show them off.
Now getting back to the review… When I was thinking about the compilations that I thought several of these tracks could have been on it occurred to me: those are downtempo / lounge releases from around 2005. And, more so, those compilations became very generic to me. I couldn’t name even one of the tracks on them.
Which is kind of a lingering impression that I have of 1981’s Nocturnal: there are parts of it that are so generic that they could have been produced 10 years ago. They don’t really place themselves in today’s style of music. There is nothing that makes them any different from the songs on those old compilations.
Which is something of a compliment as well. It’s difficult for independent artists to produce works that measure up to the standards of “professional” producers. And yet, these works do stand up to them.
So 1981’s Nocturnal gets something of a mixed review: there’s a lot of downtempo goodness to it, and there is some variation from the standard house style music to make it interesting to listen to. And the production is very professional. However, I also have this feeling that a fair portion of this release would have fit with tracks that were produced 10 years ago. But worse, there is something of a generic quality to the work: I don’t think in a compilation I could identify a specific track as being by 1981. I don’t feel a sense of style that is strong enough for me to differentiate their work from other artists.