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Chris Gray - Deeper Level of Understanding (Music Is..., 1997)

Rhythm meets passion on a high octane deep house classic.

Deep house was a genre forged in the depths of the mind and the soul. It plays with the emotional side of dance music, one that was explored before but perfected in the club by the Chicago house greats and their devotees. Ranging across the spectrum, the 90s stuff can be a little bit stuck in a time warp, appalling to the sensibilities of its context, and as a result feeling all so very 90s. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is a real delight when a record transcends boundaries and time frames, coming across as a well curated essence and sound, very much the mould, rather than something existing simply to surf the tide of popularity.

Chris Gray very much fits this description, as does his remarkable debut, ‘Deeper Level of Understanding’. His blend of endearing keys, sombre yet playful melodies, and pulsating drum patterns, ignite a fire within the listener, enveloping them in his vision. This writer feels that great electronica can present a boundary for a narrative to play out in the listeners heads, as without vocals, it is entirely up to the listener to interpret the song for what it might be, could be, wants to be. With deep house, it was ‘much more than a feeling’, something that cannot be described, more distilled and internalised through closing your eyes and connecting to it on an emotional level. Gray curates this narrative that sweeps through the genres core, what makes it so captivating, through his innovative displays of sound. Creating scenarios upon sceneries, this is an album with unparalleled depths, and one that will get its hooks into you.

Up first comes ‘Nite Air’. Starting off simply enough, the lead chord sequence does its thing over an evolving cymbal exploration. This all transitions speedily into the beat, that begins moving underneath. The chords are joined by more, that intertwine and join forces for brief moments. The main line comes in, a chiming beast, that slowly grows on the listener, adding another layer of intrigue. The chords in the background, although initially centre stage, take a backseat, and allow for the chimes and a distorted bass line to really pack a punch in there. A lovely blend, one that evolves gently through its many passages and combinations of sounds. ‘Mind Flux’ comes up next, and this is a different breed all together. Harder drums pave the way here, placed way down to give the kicks and cymbals that little something extra. Then a chord sequence from the gods comes into play, moving out for a bit, as the drums fall way, the tune almost presenting itself as over within the techno spectrum. Little lines move around as the cymbals come straight back in, as the tune builds itself up once again. The drums fall away a number of times, cleverly allowing other elements to be introduced or fall away in equal measure. This tune pulls the unexpected time and time again, and that makes it all the more wonderful. Experimental tendencies take centre stage, toying with the listener to cloud their hearts and minds with this paper full on force of nature. daaaaamnn. Up next comes ‘Mello Minds’, as we descend into the b side. This one presents itself as a bit more dense, with chords and cymbals working alongside in tandem. It has that very New York feel to it, very Dreamscape kinda house. Full of sleaze, erotica, with that damn saxophone feel key solo line, it feels very loose and jazz inspired. A lovely contrast to the first two tracks, that pumped ya full of explosive house energy, to then come down back firmly into the mind, rather than the body. Hence the name of the track, this is a real ear worm, that solo line just going and going and going.

Up next comes ‘Yen Yang’. Full of chippy synth keys, over the top of stabs from above, this one just builds right from the off into this traction heavy groove full of character. Again, Gray focuses on these little moments to bring forward the song, that happens time and again. The movement of drums in and out of play give these tracks such a powerful dynamic, allowing for bodies to start to move to the rhythm, but taking a break when needed. This gives this record a very unique flavour. ‘Gamma’ comes next, and takes us down a bit further. Gray pairs the feel of this track with the previous one like two very fine wines, that will always be good to drink. The synths here play more of a role, with the drumming more stripped back, chords and solo lines take centre stage. And once again, they are intricate, they have movement, they have feeling. Moving towards the tail end of the record, we have ‘Blue Waters’. Conjuring up memories and impressions of the simmering hue, deep swirling chords do the business over a strong as fuck beat, with little keys coming into play at the perfect moments. One of the only tracks on the record to utilise some form of vocal, consisting of the words ‘blue waters’, the repetition allows for one to reflect somewhat on the context and narrative provided. Deep deep stuff. The title track follows, and this one is one for the ages. Jazzy yet big big synths take the lead here, a mix of the real highs with the soft lows, again giving the track such a range and dynamic feel. Finally, we have ‘Waves Eternal’. This is just straight up gorgeous house, with all the trimmings, character overflowing with happy happy feels.

Bliss bliss bliss.

Gray understands his vibe, not one that was to be curated for the masses. Here, we find a real tender selection of tunes that bind themselves to the soul. Warm, bathed in the sun, they unravel themselves through unconventional means, developing further and further into a euphoria not designed through super charged and bombastic means, but through kind and soft tones. Warm waves that wrap around your feet, soft sand between your toes. This is an exceptional record, and one that transcends big time from a simple place to one of many stories, narratives and feel. An essential house record, an essential record, to be honest. Bravo.

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