Billy Lo - It's The Life (Cosmocities Records, 2021)
Three of the Motor City's most respected musicians come together on this mini-masterpiece, which contains both new material and a highly anticipated reissue of the iconic 2002 cut 'Its the Life'.
There are a few cities that pop up when thinking about the great centres of electronic music, but perhaps the first to always cross our thoughts is the Motor City - Detroit, Michigan. The city has remained an ever present in the collectivised musical consciousness for decades now as a origin point of so much exceptional music and equally exceptional musicians, a linage that dates back to the early 80s but even further back to the sounds of Motown and the golden age of Jazz. The city has changed much over the years, and with it came important seismic changes in the worlds of electronica, as Techno was born from within the genre hopping minds of the Bellevue Three, and the dance music world was fundamentally changed forever. Down the road, in the other city by the lake, Chicago, House music was introduced to us, and the two cities became forever linked to their respective creations, seeing an output during the 80s that was simply irresistible for crowds all over the world, listeners who were placed in the purest states of euphoria due to the music they were listening to. Naturally, the musical communities in both cities were equally inspired by the other's new genre, so music makers became drawn to both phenomenons and started doing their own takes on techno and house, which in turn provided some of the most inspired releases to flow out of the 90s. Chicago would continue onwards perfecting the genre of deep house - with a number of flirtations with techno along the way - whilst Detroit remained the epicentre of Techno, with the 2nd generation seeing to it that the world was continually satisfied with the genre and all its rich potential. Around this time, a number of producers in Detroit became enamoured with House and its rich potential, with the explosion in differing styles offering a vast array of inspiration to those about to start their musical journeys. Paying tribute perhaps to the Soul and Jazz roots of the city, a style would emerge from the Motor City that to this day has remained intrinsic to itself, a sound that swerves between jazzy and soulful excellence and deep blended chordal tones, where the compositions are long and fruitful and the payoffs are enriching and hugely enjoyable to delve within. The music often challenges the conventional notions of house, where long looping vocal samples intersect with changes in rhythm and structure, the songs having a wonderful chopped up feel to them as they slink and groove along the rhythmic sub level, crafting some of the strongest narrative feels in all of dance music. Many of the Detroit house greats are still setting the trends at a consistency high standard, and considering how many contemporary artists are inspired by the ideals they set in motion, its fair to say that the Detroit House sound has remained one of the genre's most important and groundbreaking representations. Its not just the jazzy side that continues to amaze, but the soulful murmurings, the deep caresses of vocals and chords that work wonders on the mind and the heart, taking us away on the dance floor to a place where ills and pains are eased and joy and delight are actively encouraged. We remain in a state of awe, constantly finding ourselves tripping over to purchase a new 12" or indeed an old 12", as the pool of talent and excellent releases gets bigger and better with each passing day, adding further to the legacy of the originators who crafted one of the many important electronic music worlds we now find ourselves living within. The essence was curated during this time is one of pure musical joy, its spirit persisting and abounding as time moves onwards and upwards, its core never faltering but simply growing and growing as time passes by, because as they say, innovation and ground breaking quality never go out of fashion.
One of the names that is commonly associated with the city's golden eras of House music is Billy Lo, consisting of the singer/producer William Beaver - also known as Billy Love - and producers Darren Abrams and Darryl Tiggs, who collectively contributed some significant music to the sound during the early 2000s. The trio have all weaved themselves into the fabric of the Detroit sound, be it either popping up as collaborators on 12", writing tunes for others, or setting the trends through production, its hard to deny how much these three have contributed to that soulful early 2000s house scene, a story told through flair and emotion. Together they penned the iconic 'Its The Life' EP, which arrived back in 2002, and introduced to the world another set of musicians who embodied the styles and forward thinkingness of Detroit, along with casting their eyes to the deepness and soulfulness that House music can evoke within people. The title track and 'Detroit Latenight' are both excellent representations of vocal driven house taking a firm grip of the handles and steering us in the direction towards emotional fulfilment, with Beaver's voice interacting so expertly with the melodies that softly reside underneath. The icing on the cake is the 12 minute long jam 'Tell Me Why You Play', which starts with the kicks and echoing vocal line and simply takes off to places of inner fulfilment, a masterclass at balancing serenity and energy which unravels perfectly over its running time. The record showed how in tune with one another the musicians were, able to bounce concepts and ideas together that is reflected in how beautifully considered the record feels, with every single corner of potential squeezed to give over a satisfaction found only in the highest echelons of house music. Following on from their success together, the trio looked to their own journeys for new outputs, with Beaver being the busiest in terms of outputs. He featured frequently on EPs spanning a range of styles and feels, which reflects the range and textural qualities of his voice, which has the ability to reach out and transfix the whole room or to speak so tenderly you wonder for a moment if his voice is a light instrumental solo on top. His voice weaves along so impeccably with the music, at ease with the backdrop and confident in pressing outwards to dazzle, crafting a feeling that you only get from the deepest and narrative driven of house sounds. We throughly recommend checking out the 'Harmony/Hominy' and 'Getcho Mind Right/Spirit Animals' records, which were made with the funk band Will Sessions, which showcase the other side to Beaver's amazing voice; and the iconic 'Mellowghettomental' record, that came out in 2010 on Theo Parrish's Sound Signature imprint (and be sure to check out all of the Masters of the House records!). Abrams, outside of his work with Billy Lo, is best known for his 2002 cut 'Loose Piano', which was released on the seminal 'Detroit Beatdown' Volume 1 compilation, with the tune a beautiful and mystifying trip through the realms of cosmic leaning deep house. Finally, Tiggs contributed writing and arrangements to the 2005 record 'Fly Away', which featured Billy Love on vocals, and this one is truly fantastic indeed. In all, the trio have achieved some very special things together and apart from one another, with the knowledge that the magic they are able to conjure up as friends and musically minded people keeping the fire burning from their debut effort. Their sound remains a deeply spiritual one, a audial frequency that reflects the rich DNA of Detroit and channels it into their own distinctive corner, one that overflows with soul, meaning and passion, a enrapturing feel that does much to warm the heart on the coldest of days. You feel very present within the recordings, speaking back to the voice of Billy Love with your own meanings and words, dipping your toe into the silky smooth keys that chime to the rhythms of life, breathing new meaning into the soul of it all. You won't find much better Detroit house, so why not treat yourself and take a trip down through a discography seeped in history and rich in the best kind of soul.
So now we arrive at the latest effort from the trio, 'Its The Life', which is coming out on French label Cosmocities Records. Its a record that contains references to the past, the present and indeed the future, with the title cut from their 2002 EP getting a repress and the remix treatment from the excellent Kai Alcé, along with two original compositions from Abrams. The resulting collection of tracks reads very cohesively, with the title track sitting alongside the new tracks impeccably, creating a house EP that is big on showcasing all its potential, with each bar and sequence maximised in its feel and tone. There's the deepness, the variety in Love's vocal work, the emotionally charged chordal arrangements, and of course the differential in Alcé's remix that draws focus to how horns can weave a spectacular narrative of their own. Its gorgeous in every which way you look at it, and on that note, lets take a dive into this wonderful slice of house heaven....
Up first comes the title track, and this one opens up with the chords leading the way. Their fullness occupies the length and depth of the scope, crafting a backdrop that places you right between the switches and changes, our eagerness to go along for the ride only making the progressions more exciting and engaging. Whilst the chords ring out across the tundra, the intertwining vocal lines speak across the pans, speaking conversationally at first but then Love's soaring voice emerges from within, picking up as the kicks align themselves within the percussive structure, as the women's voice continues to speak on both sides in an equally compelling manner. Its a pitch perfect narrative, playing out on top of the ever evolving melodies which now include some delicate key lines operating through the middle and striking piano riffs that delightfully canter just to the right of those, the whole ensemble one of invitation into this most intricately crafted of worlds. Love puts in a powerhouse of a performance here, his voice swinging between trembling words to dynamic plunges upwards through the ceiling, hypnotically serving around the melodics with such command and presence, with the feeling that he is putting his everything into the performance never straying from our mind. Forever a classic this one, showing us all how its done. Up next comes the first of the original compositions, 'Do You Play Around', and we begin in beaty territories for this one. The drums have that instantly recognisable live feel to them, the snares kicks and hats all feel like they were performed and recorded in a small bar somewhere, as that classic combo of the looping chordal line and delicate key lines coming into view on top. Love's voice and the backdrop synth line come into the picture around the same time, creating another relationship that pairs up with the original drums and key duo which creates a unparalleled sense of dynamism and depth. The track moves into a more stripped back segment, with the original chordal line remaining as elements fade in and out of time, with Love's voice never far away as the bongos come in to really take us away. The backdrop synths arrive back into the fold once again, as the sequences continue to weave and bob around the core elements with ease and drive, setting sail for the cornerstones of the descending sun. Sublime in every sense of the word.
Up next comes the Kai Alcé remix of the title track, and the vibe is taken in a very positive direction indeed. The mood is more laid back, the chords and soft but complex rhythmic patterns crafting a more intimate sense of scale, channelling into our inner pulses with its soft undulating sensibility, with the vocal line calling out for the kicks to arrive from deep within. Their arrival lifts up the emerging trumpet line that ebbs and flows with a lucid energy, occupying the top ends of the cut with a breezy and refreshing level of energy, with the sub base of the track content to move along at a unrelenting pace. Its a canter through soft tones, gently speaking instrumental layering that resonates from the very bottom right to the top, with the gorgeous vibraphone solo that cascades in creating further intricacies to the composition, switching places with the trumpet which subsequently returns after the track takes a breather. Its a masterful remix, picking out melodic sequences of the original and maximising their potential to create a truly original and creative reimagining. To wrap things up, we have 'Is It The Music', and this one begins with the chords setting the scene. Their feel is one of emotiveness, and not long after they have passed hands a couple of times do we get swept up on our feet by the beat, which unravels to showcase all manner of melodic excellence on top. This swings and serves between the hypnotic duo of Love's voice and the stabbing jazz laden chords that intersect the vocals, and it works so very well indeed. As an ending cut, you couldn't ask for much more, a real triumph of a house record.
House at its most powerful can be a revolutionary audial experience, and that feeling comes across in spades on this record. The trio showcase the widest extents of their talents as they blend the powerful presence of Love's voice with some of the sweetest and most satisfying chordal arrangements you will ever hear, balanced perfectly throughout to give over a dynamic and engaging collection of tracks that do the business each and every time. Alcé's remix is the finishing touch to this most bountiful of musical constructions, a reconsidering of the original material that really showcases how a remix can be both respectful and widely refreshing at the same time. The collection might be named after a reissued classic, but the 4 tunes read together like something that is coming out today, interlinked by a collective mindset that know what it wants to achieve and carries out the plan to a T. Beautiful, meaningful and impactful, its house as house should be, carrying the flag for Detroit in the most enriching of ways. A wonderful piece of music, and one that will soundtrack many memorable nights to come.
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