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Space Ghost - Free 2 B (Apron Records, 2020)

Sultry rhythms and classy emotive tones come together on this beautiful release from one of dance music's most evocative and exciting producers.

Identity in sound and vision is always important, and to uphold your values in these departments always leads to innovation and longevity. Staying true to your ideals and understandings crafts the most solid of bases from which to work from, but always allows for constant reinvention and broader scopes to be explored and enhanced. In todays contemporary musical landscape, A label or producer who continues their narrative by weaving and flowing around their essence always draws people in, as the first chapter starts off the love affair and ensures people remain continually engaged with the music that flows between them and the music. Particularly within dance music, there is so much content going around that caters to pretty much every kind of genre and sub-genre imaginable, and with all the continued revivals particularly of the 90s side of things, a whole new world has opened up to listeners for the first time. But we keep coming back to the labels that dive into the emotive and meaningful side of things, where power is drawn from the past stylings in order to evoke feeling and passion within us. Ever since Deep House emerged from Chicago in the 80s, generations of producers have captured our imaginations with their blending of deep silky chords over subtle considered drum structures, in all kinds of genres and styles. Suddenly, music became for the mind and soul as much as it is for the body, and this relationship became an instant hit with listeners, who were drawn to this new kind of expressive instrumentalism. Year upon year, new methods and visions collided in order to churn out new and invigorating ways to express this interface between rhythm and mood, with the expanded universe of sounds growing and strengthening with each passing minute. The music contains within strikes a chord with us, its very soul revealing itself to us through a series of beautifully composed musical conceptions, the nature of the music weaving through the boundaries of space and time to transport us to a place of contentment and fulfilment. For this reason, we become endeared to the producers and labels to practise this kind of musical approach, one that remains compelling on so many levels.

Apron Records is certainly one of those labels that has since its inception aligned itself to the musical affinities of music lovers around the world via this exploration. The label, run by producer FunkinEven, has taken quite the journey since its debut release back in 2011, with a string of releases that are as diverse as they are emotive, endlessly bold as they are inherently honest, effortlessly groovy as they are poignantly reflective. To dive back through the Apron catalogue is to dive into a sea of beautifully composed music that has bags of character, and a heart to match. The fine line between groove and melody feels seismic within every release, as FunkiEven mars his own creative outputs with a family of seriously talented producers who aim for the stars and produce something truly magical every time. The excitement is palpable whenever a new release comes around, as in you feel a sense of what joy might be conjured up from a new label mate or perhaps a seasoned veteran returning for their next triumph. This also comes from the fact that some very compelling cross over genre hits have radiated from the label, where producers cleverly blend styles together to craft music that is inherently interesting and compelling. In a sense, this is perhaps the label's greatest strength - to read the contemporary music landscape, interpret it, and through harnessing the essence and vision of the overall label sound, conjure up music that comes across as occupying vital spaces in the many crossroads that inhibit the landscapes we engage with today. Be it techno, electro, deep house, hip hop, grime, funk, and seemingly everything in between, you will find fewer labels that push such a strong identity as Apron, and that runs deep through everything they do. Some select highlights from a mighty strong discography include FunkiEven's 2012 EP 'Chips/Sweets'; the full on acid assult that is 'Untitled' by FunkiEven & Delroy Edwards, from 2013; the brilliant joint EP 'Space Invaders' by Lord Tusk & Brassfoot, from 2014; the rolling intensity that is Greg Beato's 'When Monkeys Attack' record from 2015; the wonderfully moving 'Apron' EP by Bastien Carrara, from 2016; the always compelling John T. Gast and his 'Overseer' single from 2016; Hanna's excellent 'The Never End' release from 2017; the moody excellence of the 'Not Phazed' EP from Dreams, from the same year; the amazing 'Bloodline' record from Steven Julius, one of FunkiEven's alias, that arrived in 2018; the incredible Sun Runners 女神の恋人達 record 'Lust For Life', that arrived last year; the groovy jazzy house of My Girlfriend on their 'Apron' EP, also from last year (and one of our 2019 favourites); and both the Quaid and Zopelar records from this year remain as standouts already from 2020. All in all, this little selection represents but a mere exploration of the strengths of the label, so we certainly implore those who are less acquainted with the label to get into it and check it all out. You will not be disappointed.

So, we now arrive at one of the labels latest releases, entitled 'Free 2 Be', which comes from American producer Sudi Wachspress, under his alias Space Ghost. Wachspress has been doing his thing for a while, and that thing has produced some of house musics most beautifully poised and emotionally reflective records of the past few years. Its quite rare that a producer's discography contained more LPs than EPs, but perhaps that says a lot about the person who made them, with Space Ghost taking us on journeys through the realms of joy and enlightenment with each listen. His deft hand at production is matched, perhaps exceeded, by his tonal choices and melodic approaches, where the potential of key driven dance music is pushed to its absolute limits. When we thought that we couldn't get enough of emotive melodies, Wachspress takes it to whole new heights of perfection and ambition, where the sultriness comes full circle to provide full bodied emotional workouts. The kind of music you allow to swim around in your head, taking in every facet of feeling in order to immerse and get lost within, its truly compelling stuff. Whilst his earlier career saw excursions into other genres, such as IDM, leftfield, ambient and electronica, his past two albums, 2018's 'Endless Light' and last years 'Aquarium Nightclub' both demonstrated his affinity with the power of deep house, and we feel all the more fulfilled for it. Both records were true powerhouses, memorable moments in both the years in which they were released, and these vibes only continue further on his latest effort. Recorded in between the previously mentioned records, it very much feels like the link between the two, with the key work and passion very much matching the others. A record that slots right into the Apron family, and we are so happy that it has seen the light of day. So lets take a dip!

The opener, 'Juno Fantasy', welcomes us into this listening experience. A series of singular chords then builds with a new layer on top that adds depth and scope, the swells of the synths washing over us with ease and contentment. Going through the flows, little keys permeate in the distance, like flickering lights in the deep night sky, their glow adding a little bit of flavour over the wall of sound that persists underneath. Rhythmic keys then do a few lines, before the track quickly moves into the drumming patterns, and we are transported away. The melodies go into over drive here, their complexities growing stronger by the minute, with those deep as hell chords doing such a great job at propping it all up in the background. We nod our head lightly to the groove, our eyes closing every few moments to take it all in before a key line takes us off in a new direction. Distinctly Space Ghost, pure and effortless. A sublime opener. Up next comes 'Prayer For U', and the tempos go up a significant notch with this one. The simple but effective drum beat steadily builds up momentum, adding in little percussive elements here and there, and then the keys descend. We aren't going to beat around the bush here, but you really won't hear a better chord progression all fucking year. The manner in which it lightly falls into place, before just going off on its journey, its just so marvellous. By the time we get over how gracious that opening salvo is, the melody has already grown in strength, adding in the backing singular chord in the background, as the chuggy bass line adds rhythm and structure through the middle, as he begins to play around with the tones of the progression. By the mid point of the track, a tinkling key line delightfully grooves into our field of vision, only adding to the compelling nature of this superb track. A break down of sorts follows next, as he once more moves the progressions around a bit, focusing on the down side of things, with the chords left here still doing a phenomenal job at moving everything forward. House track of the year? probably. 'Feeling Real Good' follows next, with the intentions of keeping the fire burning in relation to tempo. The simmering chord plays itself out in the background, as the kicks come into play, and before long we are graced with yet another utterly infectious chord sequence. This plays out a couple of times, before we move into the full bodied structure of the track, with the vocal line operating deep within the confines of the tune, with the bass line adding enormous amounts of depth to proceedings. The high end key lines again add more intrigue to the track, something of which Space Ghost is truly excellent at, the little things that reside along the full bodied chord structures. The relationships between the vocal line and those little key lines really play out very well indeed, and its these that keep the track rolling forward with such power and meaning.

Up next comes 'Mystery Angel', and the slow tempo drums greet us with this one. Before we know it, the driving bass sequence swings into view, which is quickly joined by some real silky keys indeed. Interplaying between crescendo key lines and diving chords, the dynamic blends and grooves with a real sense of rhythm, exuding a visual passion that resonates so much within us. The superb blend of tones and sounds make up a track that retains this sort of spellbinding quality, where textural elements add so much to the overall tone. Once more, we remain amazed at the melodic abilities of this guy. Damn. 'I'll Be Yours' follows next, featuring vocalist G'La, and we arrive once more with the keys to end all keys. Its wonderful to hear Space Ghost's music paired with a full on vocal performance, and this truly does not disappoint. Following on from the opening blend, G'La makes her presence known, her voice rising high about the melodies but matching it in delivery and power, as the bass line underneath pounds away to add further depth to proceedings. The transitions that lead into the breakdowns are very effective indeed, as G'La demonstrates her range to transcend the song to new realms of emotional engagement. The music and the vocals retain this lovely sense of mico evolution throughout, where little variations in both aspects serve to push the track to new heights of excellence. Superb stuff. Up next comes 'Girl U hypnotize Me', which moves the tempos up just a little. The drums begin off a little paired back, but you just know that all the space will be filled with melodic goodness, and we are not disappointed in the slightest. That is one of this records great strengths, in that understanding the spaces between the beats and how to fill them with such beauty is inherently important to the records sound. The keys remain on point, as always, with the bass taking an important rhythmic role at the lower ends, with all the little intricacies in keys playing out just as magnificently as ever. The overall picture again emerges as something entrenched in groove and the power of melody, and we are all for it. Next comes 'Love Beam', and here the drums begin us off once more. The ebbs and flows that persist with the drums here perk up our interest, and the keys join quickly afterwards. The melodic elements and the vocal line that comes into view craft a very interesting narrative indeed, fitting into the structures set by the drums very well indeed, but here there is a slightly different feel, with this wonderful dynamic existing between the two, A real swing, give and take kind of relationship begins to emerge that moves and flows with the times, and its a wonderful experience. To wrap things up, we have instrumental versions of instrumentals of 'Feelin Real Good' and 'I'll Be Yours', which both serve as fantastic counterparts to their vocal alternatives. We see the full power of Space Ghost's instrumental abilities here, but in a record full of these moments, its always a good thing to see the vocal cuts alongside the instrumentals. it gives new life and meaning to his music, and both takes are rich and invigorating in their sound and meaning.

We all knew Space Ghost's ability and sound, evident from his two previous triumphs, and this release seals the trio of records that he has conjured up the 3 previous years. Its been quite a journey, but here the producer confirms his position as one of the most evocative and tender musicians out there, his obvious technical and musical abilities matched by the tones and textures he implements in his tracks. This album is no different, and contains some melodic progressions that you will be revisiting time and time again, their staying power and mood unlike any other. What comes across so much in this record is the melodies, the drums and the overall atmosphere, that moves between up tempo house numbers to slow burning end of the night kind of tracks, but no matter what Space Ghost looks to explore, the tracks will always burn brightly with his essence. The music retains an unbelievable amount of character, flavour and depth, a blend that continually comes across and never looses sight of what he wishes to achieve. Quite simple, a remarkable record, and one that you will surely fall in love with, revisiting time and time again when you need some kind of emotional pick up, or a moment when you simply wish to immerse yourself in the most enriching of melodic progressions. A fucking stunner, pure and simple.

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