Paul Cut - Le Bal Des Douaniers (Popcorn Rec., 2020)



A masterclass in key work threads it all together in this genre spanning, sound morphing modern day classic.


Keys and synths truly are amazing tools, but how people who use them express themselves with it can really make the difference on a sonic and emotional level. Throughout the history of music, keys have been utilised in all kinds of ways; as the bed rocks of genres such as soul and funk, the lead lines in jazz fusion, the out there and other worldy within psychedelic and prog rock, the expanse that is ambient. In other words, their usage has largely been defined by the genre they inhabit, reflective of the stylings and techniques captured during that time, but their adaptability came forth immensely with the introduction of new synths and keyboards that would serve such importance to the genres of electronica. Firstly, within the early 80s, keys came to the forefront of genres such as synth pop, Italo Disco, 2nd wave Disco/Funk and New Wave, which all fed directly into the blossoming house and techno scenes in Chicago and Detroit respectively. It was here where keys were truly used as a full on emotive tool, in one manner to reflect the cosmic daze and pursuits of techno, and to ignite the dance floor and all its passions through house. Particularly with house and its sub genre, deep house, the manner of creating fully realised emotional narratives became possible with the focus on electronically produced music, and it inspired countless genres and scenes around the world to have their own take on it. In many ways, the moods and flavours found here all draw back to the instruments and how people used them, how their usage of them reflected their visions and contexts, the scenes and moods they wanted to reimagine through sound. How people pair keys with their visions, how these visions expand or contract, helps to define ones identity within the world of electronica, and those who have the skills to pull off not just one but many genres with passion and flair, they truly connect with the tools around them on more than just one level. These artists constantly draw genres closer to their hearts, looking to blend themselves with the true meaning of not just one but many, the varying essences interconnected to give over experiences that speak to us on so many ethereal plains.


Paul Cut certainly embodies many of these ideals, and then some. As a long time jazz obsessive, it is perhaps no surprise that he is able to read through the lines in order to create superbly melded, constantly morphing and divinely sounding house music. His approach pulls in the varying facets of the genre together under one roof, where the beats and chordal structures always have more room to accommodate more styles and blends. The attention to technique and tones has allowed Cut to follow an ever evolving style, where being bound to formulas became less so and more so about evaluating and progressing his already impressive sound. The music often contains all the progressive tendencies of 90s house, before veering off into the most supreme of jazz tinged breaks and workouts. Its the stuff that only a master of his craft could pull off, and its always immensely impressive. Some selected works from his discography include the brilliant 2015 'Basement Jam' EP, a truly excellent example of contemporary jazz house; the equally brilliant 'Doum Doum' EP from 2017, that introduced us to a new and expansive side to Cut's music; the 'To Brothers' EP from 2018, that gave us further insights into the evolutions of his sound; and finally, his 'Ma Pauvre Cousine EP' from last year, that further pushed the boundaries of the music to new realms. Each record built from the last, where loops and melodies developed into fully blown soundscapes, where the possible seemed within reach yet the surprising was always around the corner. With a producer like Paul Cut, it always seems to occur, his vision constantly getting us to revaluate, the tones and textures working over time to truly envelop us in his world. The likes of Larry Heard and Chez Damier have enlisted the skills of the talented producer, and what more validation could you really hope for. Its very much worth your time checking out his back catalogue.


And now, we arrive at the big one, Cut's debut album, 'Le Bal Des Douaniers'. We have seen the man produce the goods over a series of ever-shifting EPs, where moods and tones are quickly developed over four cuts or so. Now we get to see that wizardry played out over a full record, where the times become much longer, the immersiveness develops more intensely, and the deep well of musical experience becomes that much more expansive. The overall tonal atmosphere switches up between each song, but its the keys that thread it all together, Cut really hammering home his talents to craft different and unique worlds each time. Whilst for others this might seem like quite the jump, for Cut it feels unbelievably natural, as he looks to his past releases to inspire all that is fundamentally excellent about this release. Deep house, soft jazz tinged dance, even some drum 'n' bass, yep there is something for everyone, right here, in this wondrous world. So, lets take a dip.


First up we have 'Intro Cut', and the scene is set. The deep string chords softly group themselves in the distance, their tone slightly increasing as we look just a little bit closer. The expanse envelops and grows, moving towards us as the sound becomes fuller by the minute. Its quite the spectacle, the blinkering lights in the distance permeate through the wall of sound, the darkening sky, as the city awakens to the sombre sounds of this gorgeous intro. Up next arrives 'Caparadise', and the mood immediately shifts from the hazy and into the action orientated. The jazz sequence reverbs, creating a density between the stabs, as the drums arrive to compliment their cosmicness. The chords are contextualised by the arrival of little key and bass line sequences, adding further textures into the mix. The new chord line stabs in the backdrop, moving the track further along, with the hi hats adding energy and forward momentum. By this point, the track is in full swing, moving along with all the grace and elegance that you would expect, with the new melodic key line moving from the right and straight to the centre. It becomes this focus point within this deep sea of sound, a sound that rises high and low, constantly keeping us engaged and connected to the track. The progressive and expressive nature of this track will have you hooked from beginning to end. Up next comes 'Zebulon Neon', and the drums already give over the signs of good things to come. The singular chord fills the room between the cavernous beats, chiming away with all the purity going, as the chord is joined by the playful sequence that floats underneath. This structure keeps on moving forward, all the while the vibrancy levels have been increasing with every single movement forward. The balance between the dynamics of sound and rhythm is so on point, delicately posed to really weave its way into our hearts and minds. By the time the piano keys slide into view, we have fully given ourselves into it all. Slowly building from sultry keys, the full on chords just give the track that extra piece of fullness. God damn. 'Boug Room' follows next, and we begin in smooth waters. The chord sequence, solid as a rock as it floats above the beat, itself such a wonderfully composed and delicate blend of percussion and snares. This arrangement carries on for a few movements, before the drums kick it up, the bass line crafting its own little piece of the action. The chords, absent through this switch up, then come right back round again, doing their thing to create wondrous evocative vibes. Around the half way mark, the track begins on its new direction, as the arrangements switch around, adding in a new sequence that transports it all to new worlds. The additional acidic lines permeate all throughout, its damn near jazz deep perfection.


Up next comes 'Les Gars Si', and oh yeh we enter proper high octane territory. The kick drives deep deep down, the organ like stabs hitting at a lightening pace, as the beats begin to become more full as time marches on at a frantic pace. The breakdowns provide respite, a moment for the track to pick itself up once more, with Cut adding in little variations here and there that continue the track forward. The additional keys add weight, but its the slow intro of a double bass?! that takes you right by surprise, as the chords being to twinkle and sparkle amidst the sea of high pace kicks. Damn! 'PPSB' arrives next, with the intro signalling at a new pace, a new setting. The ominous keys slowly emerge within the distance, as the quick fire drumming patterns set the rhythm up. Slowly the two build up, side by side, awaiting instructions from either to let it go completely, and to be expected its the drums who make the first move. The kick double times, the collective beat grooving hard, as the melodies in the backdrop remain filtered and obscure, but their presence is acknowledged. The track continues on with its journey, the little lines that continue to groove and weave around the beat, the bass line that worms its way into the hearts and minds, its all just so damn good. 'Tipsy Glisse' arrives next, and oh damn! the beat ain't playing here, the drum 'n' bass vibes rolling in hard on this one. The complexity and depth is just ridiculous, the layers all operating as one intoxicating strata of sound, and as we begin to properly drool over this beat, the chords hit home. Its quite the moment, as they announce themselves with the most enveloping of sounds, truly a memorable moment from this record. It has that depth that many classic liquid 90s d'n'b tracks displayed and went for, but there is very much a nod to the art of live instrumentation, the design of texture and tone considered enormously to give the sound this rich feel, this alive feel. The tune moves through the motions with such elegance, the breakdown allowing jazz chords and little sequences the time to really show what they are made of. Fucking hell.


Towards the business end now. First up we have 'Zut Flute', and this one takes the vibes down to a suitably end of record energy. The bass keeps a steady hand on the helm, as the full and expressive drumming crafts the underneath of it all. The flute solo that hazily cruises along is just wonderful, a singular element that threads all this magic together. The composition of this all is astounding, the constant upheaval of drums and tones keeps things fresh and moving forward, the crisp piano lines interlace with the drums to give other this latin infused slow burner. A celebration of Cut's abilities with this one. 'Bill Morris' flows into view next, and we are greeted with what sounds like another classic track from the man of the hour. The drums are steady, but as always providing that real sense of purpose and vitality, their sound expertly considered to create a dynamic depth. Before long, they are joined by a duo of chords laying it down, and a key line that ascends above, whilst pads and vocal samples soar above the sea of sublimeness. To finish up, we have 'Perc It', and what an experience it has been. The congas and percussion spell out the riddims, as the jazzy snazzy chords interplay on top. They recede to the back as the track hits its stride, simply acting as the underscore to the piano that bounds into view. As with much of the record, it is during the breakdowns that we see the track internalise, bringing in new elements and features that make the next phase of the progression just that bit more exciting. This record has just dazzled from start to finish, from its ambient synthy lead opener, through its deep house intro, to its harder edged dance core, through a superb drum and bass inspire track, and back down to classic Paul Cut, its just been one long journey through the realms of jazz tinged brilliance.


This record ticks all the boxes, and then writes up some new options for you to score over. What could be better than tracks that give over so much vibrancy, so much immersion, that you can see and feel and touch it, the power of the compositions so vivid that there isn't much else to do but just marvel at it. Cut has crafted something extraordinary with this record, and in many ways is a record that gives back possibly more than the music that inspired it. A hybrid mix of genres and styles pulled off with such skill and vision, its harder to think of a record so far this year that has achieved that Paul Cut has here. Top Draw.


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