Stefan Ringer - Side Notes (Second Hand Records, 2020)
Stefan Ringer reminds us all of his meticulous and broad ranging talents with this stunning cosmic jazz house record that will continue to turn heads for a long time yet.
Having a formula with making music never hurts, and is a key driver in crafting a clear sonic identity, but more often than not it is how you build up, break down and recraft that formula which determines just how far your music can go. Often within electronica, there are self-determined elements which help to guide those who look to invest themselves in the process and help to act as tools in which to understand and craft something in their own image. Genres that have existed for a far while now have benefitted from the norms that come to be, but in many cases these genres evolve and expand via individuals or groups who seek a new way of approaching the pre-existing structures - where the foundations are shaken to form a new paradigm that remains intrinsic to that person's way of doing. House music in particular has seen countless off shots flow from its over arching essence, with so many flavours to pick through in its rich history that truly demonstrate how many flocked to its resonating meaning and force. Some have remained dedicated to its four to the floor aesthetics, but others have chosen a slightly differing path, one that focuses much on its ability to move people within a melodically rich spectrum but draws much attention to the dynamics in relation to rhythm and choppiness. This kind of approach was a key driver in the mid to early 2000s house sound, perpetuated by the wave of producers concerned with bringing in properly jazz orientated elements into the process, and resulted in some of the finest house and deep house records of the period, and for many remains very much a reference point in relation to making music. They showcased how a dexterity in application and a fluid dynamic approach to making spell binding beats had much to offer as a means of making sounds and records, its formula relying very much on how much inventiveness had to play in proceedings alongside expanding your mind to every single kind of possibility. To build up then to pare back, to nurture then reconstruct became a somewhat familiar notion with this collection of producers, who were so very willing to bring to the table the essence of jazz and free flowing funk in order to craft a new sound, one that was less concerned with the dance and more with the innards of the sound, the essences that bound the genre at its very core. To this day, it remains one of the genre's most important pillars, one that has a boundless sense of presence and place, where any kind of possibility feels tangible, with the producers who dwell within it always on the look out as to how to continually forward their sound. Its an approach that keeps things remarkably fresh, a flexible style that allows for an enormous amount of magic to occur across the board, and we are all but ready to accept it into our loving arms.
Seemingly from the beginning, Stefan Ringer has continually looked to evolve, build up and tinker with his incredibly organic house sound, and it has worked wonders long term due to the parameters he sets for his music. His style remains undeniably flexible, in a sense where a whole range of feels and tones get explored within his records, as you meander through a world that feels very bright and full of excitement indeed. A real sense of direction is also found, as Ringer seems able to always find his core identity within the tracks no matter what style he is looking to represent, a real achievement considering the diversity in sonics he is looking to achieve. Not only is the music beautifully emotive and deep, but its pulled off with a real sense of technical application, with the flows and arrangements having something that little bit extra about them which aligns itself with the sweet spot in the mind. A wonderfully considered chord sequence, a deftly constructed drum beat that ebbs to a heart beat, a sparkling key flurry here and there, a vocal line that fades in and out of the mystic, it all amounts to a series of musical experiences that remain inherently evolving but also immensely satisfying. Ringer is certainly looking to the jazzy side of things for inspiration, but its the way in which he achieves his sound that remains the most absorbing, with little features taken from numerous contexts and spaces in time and feed right back into his vision for the genre, which always births some brilliant pieces of music. You might not find another producer who has done as much to further his own style as Ringer, who has pushed the boundaries of his music simply because from the very off the parameters were set incredibly far and wide. It was simply a case of populating that landscape with phenomenal music, and that is just what he has set out to do, with some of our favourite records from his discography including the warm tonal excellence to be found on the gorgeous debut 'The Fix' EP, that arrived in 2014; the weaving and winding of styles and tones found within the glorious 'Relate' record, that arrived in 2014; the depths of sonics that dwell within the 'Blow Up' record, that arrived in 2015; the bountiful well that never runs dry on the exquisite 'Meekside Freekside' record, that arrived in 2016, with all these records released under his own name. He also released a warm fuzzy record under the Black Suede moniker, entitled 'Inner Monologue', that landed in 2015 and is very worth checking out for all those early morning dreamers. As REKchampa, some selected favourites include the warm analogue sounding freshness found on the 'Untitled' record, that landed back in 2016 and the equally groovy and thought provoking 'Fried Chicken Skin' record, that also landed in 2016. And finally, as Al Hype, he featured on the 2013 How to Kill Records collab EP 'How To Kill 001', with the track 'Like That' alongside Broodlings, which is a neatly intense series of swells that will get your blood pumping. Its a wonderful thing to be able to saunter through Ringer's superb discography, to get a sense of the comings and goings that make up the core foundations of his sound, with so much wonderment and intrigue to capture our imaginations continually as we meander through the never ending series of excellence. Its as emotionally captivating as house can be, with a excellent blend of styles that come across in differing arrangements every single time, but always coming back to Ringer and the sound he is looking to push. A formula that remains his, yet one that seems interchangeable, extendable and always evolving, something he achieves so well due to the rock solid foundation that makes all the gorgeousness possible. A walk back through his works is something we couldn't recommend enough.
And now we arrive at his latest offering, 'Side Notes', that lands via the NYC based Second Hand Records imprint. Here we see over four cuts Ringer really exploring as far reaching a sound as he can, picking up little pieces from previous cuts that made them stand out amongst the rest and bring forth a musical experience that remains one of his most complete and enriching, with so much brilliance in which to immerse yourself within. The deep jazz sound permeates through continually, but a high level of variation remains in relation to additional touches, alongside a superb sense of momentum that arrives via the twinkling of keys and soft undulating chord progressions that shine forth from every corner. It remains as full and broad as any house record you will hear all year, and that stands testament to Ringer's style and all the things he looks to push with his sound. So, without further delay, lets get into it...
Up first comes 'Get Rite', and the feels are really flowing right out from this one. The beautifully choppy beat weaves and dips with the times, with an intensely deep set sound that is characterised by the floating snare/toms, a perfect set up for the keys that begin to flow into the tune. The chords swing between two tonally on point notes, fitting themselves into the percussion with ease, their spacious demeanour providing all the time in the world for the rising arpeggio to align itself into the cut alongside the looping vocal sample that adds enormously to the ongoing dialogue. The bass line too adds itself into the mix extremely well, acting very melodically indeed as the track moves onwards and upwards, its fully released tone acting very much as a deep counter weight to ongoing proceedings. The track swings between varying melodic tones, with the layers acting as the signals in switches and transitions, as the drums remain very much moving forward in a foundational sense. Tonally there is much to revel in, with the keys in particular feeling extremely well composed and full blooded, a melodic masterclass that invites you to get it another spin once it has played itself out. A pretty excellent start. Up next comes 'Body Language', and the opening gives you a sense of the energy thats about to abound from this cut. Like with the first cut, the intro is a blended gaze of hazy drumming patterns, complex and intricate but with every single element clearly dictated and accounted for, as the rhythm section really takes its time to completely win us over. Now the foundation has been set, its time for the softly undulating keys to come into play, and you better believe its a really beautiful sequence indeed. The reverbing chord structure focuses on the left hand side of the pan, as the bass is pushed slightly centre right, with the mid range filled the looping vocal line 'Talking about body language', and that is exactly what we get in the essence of this track. The vibe, the notions and flows of the keys and the drums, all speak of a scene where people talk very much with their movements, an indication of the kind of visceral feel this track gives off. There's plenty of space for beautifully considered keys to swell and flicker in the distance or indeed right in the foreground, a carefully balanced series of sounds that does much to further the narrative of the track. The way in which the track builds itself up before climaxing in a series of unbelievable high points is simply wonderful, with our hearts and minds fully involved in whats going on, with the quiet moments when it takes down a notch truly blissful. Its masterful.
Up next comes 'Freethought', and this one is a little bit up tempo compared to the previous haze inducing cuts. The drums are extremely rich and roll filled, with the kicks holding fort as the snares, tomes and crunchy hats do much to add vigour and vitality to the spaces in between. The tone seems very appropriate indeed for the jazz laden chords to arrive, and its quite the sight indeed when they do, moving between rhythmically pacy stabs and slowed down fullness, and their switches in intensity do much to work alongside the rhythms at play. Whilst the first two cuts were a masterclass in floating along to the gorgeous breeze, this one requires much more interaction, its fiesty underbelly of percussion and softly energetic keys whipping up a frenzy in us, a deep set momentum that keeps on and on and on, and allowing itself to wrap around your thoughts is quite magical indeed. Percussive excellence, certainly. Finally, to finish things up on this wonderful record, we have 'Trysheen', and the flows continue on from the previous cut in a big way. The drums are suitably rich before then moving into the fully released sequence of events when the melodic features start to arrive, with the vocal line acting as a footwork esq lead line as swelling keys and chords emerge around the ever shifting beat structure. Its one final act of immersion, a wonderful chapter comes to an end but we know that these tracks will last for a long time in our memories. Both sides look to differing sides of the sound, and both remain equally brilliant in every sense of the word. Its up to you how far you want to let your mind wonder.
There is very much two sides to this record, not just in a literal physical sense but also in a mood and tonal kind of way. On side A, proceedings are much more mellow yet upbeat and exceptionally dancable, a sound now well defined by Ringer and his technical applications, whilst side B is a demonstration in the thick and dense rhythms and choppy melodic structures, which will worm their way into your imaginations for a long while yet. Ringer binds both audial contexts together with a deft thread concern texture, where the drums on all tracks feel alive and full of meaning, bound by their excellence in groove, alongside inspired vocal samples that keep it all grounded in some kind of neverending narrative. Not only does he pull off the cohesion in sound extremely well, but he has a musical voice that moves mountains, a unique tone and style that is hard to find anywhere else. This EP fully showcases this producers many talents, and we cannot wait to hear what he comes up with next. An absolute pearl.
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