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Paid Time Off - Itza Blackout (Leisure Records, 2020)

Updated: Jun 27, 2020

Prepare to immerse yourself in a bewildering array of carefully curated sounds on this superb second effort from the Leisure Records boss.

Merging and blending styles in dance music has always allowed for constant reinvention. At times, its quite overwhelming to look back into the past and begin to comprehend the amount of change, switches and flows that have occurred, where overnight a new genre is born into this world from the simple switch of a button on a drum machine or synthesiser. As we look back, and even within the current mix of contemporary releases, we are always drawn to those releases that symbolise these transitions, the moments when genres and stylings collided into something unique and distinctive. Its these kinds of crossroads meeting that transfix and seduce us, our investment in the music made even more so by the fact that the person behind it has understood the varying flows that run through each element, and built up the tracks to reflect this varying spectrum of influence. Today, it can be difficult to source and discover these kinds of musicians, as our world has become more full and interconnected, these moments of wonder become lessened due to many of these points having occurred already. But when you do come across someone who looks to embody these ideals, not only in vision alone but also in end product, you have something truly special on your hands. By looking backwards and seeing the interconnectivity that existed throughout history, where dance music moved and grooved through different communities and scenes to arrive at the present, a pattern between styles and blends begins to emerge, and the formula begins to reveal itself. Its no lie that this continues to inform the most musically diverse and cutting edge producers of the present, their passions and beliefs injected into music that comes across as a breath of fresh air. We still live for these moments today, as much as people did back then, as these are the new points of interest; where music can evolve not by leaps and bounds as before, but through small steps that seem like leaps.

It seems that Leisure Records label head Andrew Joseph is very much in tune with the power and potential of releasing music with these kinds of moments. Based in Chicago, Joesph has helmed Leisure Records since its inception, and has overseen an incredibly impressive series of EPs leave through the door. Listening through the four previous releases, a certain differential starts to emerge, as the blend between deep jazzy house and nu-disco tendencies starts to intertwine so successfully and blissfully. The core fundamentals of the label and everything it wants to embody leap from each track, a sense of purpose and deep understanding of groove emerge, with a real character coming across that is completely infectious and boundless in depth. A sense of enthusiasm exudes from every corner, and when paired with a drop of experimentation and depth, gives over a intensely enriching experience every single time. To saunter through their releases is certainly to see how the two genres can be so beautifully arranged alongside each other, a masterclass in how groovy vibrations can operate with the chordal progressions we associate with the finest of deep house. The label's debut, Joesph's alias' Paid Time Off Work's first EP 'Drinks/Casual Friday', was a sultry movement through the realms of blissed out tonal excellence and expressive percussion, the kind of music that truly sang from the rooftops. Full of body and rich in tone, it was an excellence introduction to the world of Leisure Records, and set the scene for new narratives to come in and occupy the labels world. By setting the boundaries of sound very wide, this allowed records that would follow to naturally slot within the identity of the label, beginning with the superb 'You Say/Uhhh' EP from Kuh Lida, that delved deep into the essence of contemporary groovy house and birthed a record that raised the bar. Abstract Matters followed next with another excellent record in the 'Slow Down' EP, an inherently hypnotic affair that flowed effortlessly between jazzy grooves and blissed out vistas. If that EP built on the vibe, then Sasquatch's pure and airy 'Star-Crossed' EP, released earlier this year, was the next piece to be added to the ever growing puzzle that is the sound of Leisure Records. All four records add their own distinctive flavour to proceedings, feeding into one another via a interlinked sense of musical expressionism and dynamism. Each EP showcases a singular talent, but grouped together you see a label that knows exactly what kind of sound they wish to deliver to listeners, one rooted in the ideal that drawing from varying genres and timescales can result in superb music. We throughly recommend you check out their previous releases, its all just so damn good.

So now, we arrive at their latest offering, the second EP from Paid Time Off, 'Itza Blackout'. This one weaves yet another chapter into the ongoing narrative that exists within the Leisure Records Story, with the new additions going above and beyond to craft new worlds for us to get lost in. The record takes a back seat, its overall vibe resting upon this kind of laid back notion but bathed in the glow of electro, which exists as the records backbone. What occurs on top is an interchangeable story, as the melodies borrow a lot from New Beat, New Wave, old school house and early electro, with the record fluidly moving within dense and exotic melodic structures which reside above ever changing tones and atmospheres. With two original tracks, plus two superb remixes from the electro legend himself, The Egyptian Lover, and deep house aficionado Nico Lahs, this is a record that will surprise and delight in equal measure. So lets take a dip!

Up first comes the title track, and we begin deep within the beats. Electro vibes permeate straight through from the top end to the bottom, and as the track moves through various bars, it becomes populated with varying harmonic elements. These include the soft chords that move into view, their cosmic like texture complimenting the beats ever so well, alongside the robotic vocals that reside within the drumming patterns, that speak to the up top vocal line as if addressing a friend. Its a wonderful manner in which the two discuss things, creating this dynamic that would appear naturally within keys and drums, but works so well here as a vocal aspect. The beats are used as the musical prop, allowing the track to shift between different arrangements with ease, giving over this graceful movement that very much keeps our interest perked up at all times. The narrative, the interchangeable movement within the harmonies and melodies, craft this very intriguing environment indeed, one which we get drawn into further and further with each swing through. Up next comes the Egyptian Lover remix of the track, and the feels immediately get upped. The beat is more free flowing, creating a swing that crafts a different transition between arrangements and musical structures, as we gaze with wonderment at the immediate hypnotic qualities of this track. Just as we get drawn in, the floor beneath us drops, as the original instrumentation falls away in favour of this flawless movement into a classic Lover vocal line, laid over this appropriate key line that adds texture and flavour to proceedings. This then swings into some additional key work that continues to add further to the dynamics, the beats working in tandem with all the fantastic blends occurring on top that flow so intuitively between each other. Absolute class, and just remember, 'The 808 Going Boom'.

Up next comes the Nico Lahs remix of the track, and in true style the vibe comes down a little bit into a sea of rich enveloping percussion. The tempo remains high, but the spaces between become more narrow, becoming filled with varying lines of cymbals and hi hats that do so much to add a new side to the track. The singular chord that persisted near the intro becomes more fleshed out, with the emotiveness turned up a notch with the intro of further pads that ring true and permeate right through that superb beat. The robotic vocal line and signature key line remain as reminders of what came before, their presence slowing becoming more apparent as the track moves through the motions. The non-robotic vocal line then remains by itself, but not for long as it is joined by those sweet sweet chords, the track composing itself so well between new elements and parts taken from the original. Its the movement between the two expressions, that gives this remix such grace and flavour, a really beautiful blend between mixes and interpretations that makes this remix stand out from the rest. To finish up, we have 'Way Out', and we begin within the familiar beat arrangements that persisted on the title track, but with some slight differences. The beat retains characteristics of beats from previous outings, but there is a more laid back feel, with less of a need to immediately grab our attention. This track waits patiently to reveal more about itself, with the vocal sample quietly repeating within the drums. From far away, we hear the distant chords, but they never over do themselves or dominate, they are just setting the scene. Then the funk hits, the series of interwoven stabs flowing between the spaces in the groove with such ease, you find yourself just nodding along with such contentment and joy. The track then continues its journey into the night, with us along for the ride, and how could we resist?

In terms of a record that has it all, you cannot look much further. Joesph sets the tone so well with the opener, as he sets the musical boundaries far and wide in order to allow two quite different producers to set their mark on the title track, and the results are beyond our wildest imaginations. The manner in which the tunes all thread together is a stroke of genius, from the swinging beats through to the chatty vocal lines and beyond to the little pieces that are added in from guest remixes, as a package you would be hard pressed to source something so compelling and far reaching yet so concise and musically meaningful. This record not only adds to the Leisure Records discography, but it opens new doors into realms of possibility within dance music itself. A record for the ages.

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