Terrance McDonald - Spaced Out / Mind Over Matter (Saber Records, 1991)
The power of house becomes redefined within the confines of rhythm and space, on this superb early 90s release from producer Terrance McDonald.
Sometimes working with repeating elements is certainly more, and if these elements are conceived, considered and placed with the foundations of a track, then you really do have a winning formula. Chicago House in many ways embodied this ideal, utilising looping chordal sequences that had interludes of stabs and keys, with an underbelly of evolving hypnotic drums that always worked over time to ensure the most frenzied, groovy and dancable vibe imaginable. The melodies and drums worked in tandem to craft transcending and moving moments on the dance floor, where dancers ills and worries washed away in the heat of the dance, their fears replaced with pure joy, even ecstasy, as the rhythm worked its magic in transporting the flock up to the heavens. The nature and the character of the music was what made it enormously special, an inherent Chicago way of nurturing and guiding a dance floor, a musical identity forged in the iconic halls of the Warehouse and the Muzic Box, its impeccable infectious musical character something hard to deny or give into. As the 80s began to near to a close, the stylings of the genre made their ways to other scenes, clubs and countries, and by this time underground scenes and rave culture had become infatuated by the sounds of the windy city, with many turning their hand to trying to capture the essence of the genre, with many releases reflecting house's influence within electronic music at the time. People began to toy with sub genres, such as deep house, dream house and even tech house, with much of the musical outputs from this time borrowing much from the Chicago side of things and bringing their own takes and styles into proceedings, with many evolutions taking root during this time that would lead to further strides in the genre leading into the 1990s. It is during this time where we see the bridges between the two decades being established, wherein producers who still admired and wanted to reflect the origins of the genre through their own music productions, where the kicks and snares still hit hard through their flurried intensity, the soft repeating chordal sequences remained king, and the melodic overturns never too full or expansive, merely working alongside each other to whip up a whirlwind of passion and release on the dance floor. Those who operated within this little spectrum of sound crafted some really beautiful releases during this time, on one hand a homage to the previous generation but also adding enormously to the musical evolutions occurring during the early parts of the 90s, drawing much power from before to craft something that still ignited dance floors and captured the hearts and minds of music lovers for years to come. The delicate touch they employed allowed for the fire to remain burning well into the decade that followed Chicago House's glory days, and provided much inspiration and passion from new producers who wished to craft their own narrative from its powers.
Terrance McDonald was certainly within that realm of producers, and his short but very sweet discography is testament to his vision and artistry. McDonald released 6 EPs during the 90s under three aliases, with the music found within always revolving around the considerations of beats and rhythmic structure, the light delicate interplays of melodic sequences, and the overall tone that powered house and techno can provide in all its full glory. McDonald employed always a beautiful understanding of how keys and drums could work side by side to craft musical experiences that evolved and fluxed with the slightest of variations, allowing his music to deviate but never loose sight of its end goal. His releases demonstrate a brilliant understanding of the ideals of both Chicago House and 2nd wave Detroit Techno, with each release serving up a new palette for which we can sample and get into with delight and joy. This understanding found within his tracks serves as a strong as hell bridge between what the 90s was looking to do and all the beauty and wonderment found in the classic house back catalogue, and in turn reflects so much of what would come in relation to house and techno. Under his DJ Metal X alias, McDonald release three EPs, 'Hyper-Tension' and 'X.S. NRG', that both arrived in 1995 on Dutch imprint Djax-Up-Beats, along with contributing the stunning 'Can You Feel The Music' track to the 1997 Dance Mania compilation record 'Untitled'. Under his Flat Circuit alias, he contributed three cuts to the 1998 record 'Ghetto Love / Ghetto Beat Down', which came out on the iconic Ghetto House label Dance Mania label. Under his own name, he released two records, the first of which is the subject of todays review, with the other being the 1994 release 'Wreck The Floor', which also arrived on Djax-Up-Beats, with the always amazing DJ Skull on production duties. In many ways this record served as a reminder of McDonald's hybridising skill set, with the music found on this record a straight up jackin' approach to house and techno, but with all the melodic beauty in the world. Its a brilliant piece of music, one which draws much from the contemporary scene and context of that period, but brings forward features that persisted from the classic era to craft a sound that would help to forge and define the future. An eye on the past, the mind in the present, and a heart for the future. Its all pretty compelling stuff, so its worth your while checking out a real talent and visionary at work!
So now we draw attention to the record of focus today, McDonald's debut under his own name, 1991's 'Spaced Out / Mind Over Matter', which arrived on the Saber Records imprint. Much like his 1994 release, McDonald here utilises the concepts of looping melodic sequences and intricate powerful drumming patterns to significant effect, crafting rhythmic structures that could last a lifetime. Their power arrives in the form of a deft balance between transitions and sections, where the hypnotic quality of the music takes hold fully around our hearts and minds, and we are all so for it. A record that stands out for its vision and quality, its mesmerising tonal nature and spellbinding melodic features, so lets take a dip into this early 90s classic.
Up first comes 'Spaced Out', and we start in suitably cosmic surroundings. As the vibe is set, the key line emerges, bouncing between two notes in order to set the pace, as the drums and kicks begin to evolve around it. The two note sequence is joined by a light bass line, an arpeggio that moves down in contrast to the two note that moves up, adding a lovely subtle dynamic to proceedings. The drums by this point have been gently moving along, but that all changes as the two note progression moves up in pitch, encouraging the drums to really up the ante, moving between differing levels of energy and rhythm, with the track moving forward in this manner for a few more bars. The track then balances itself between rhythmically full moments and more solid less musically frantic spaces, with this deft blend pulled off with such confidence and meaning by McDonald. The addition of a jazzy line chordal line adds much to the textural quality of the melody, with our minds being transported to worlds anew, this cosmic beaty beauty transposing much power onto us as time goes on. So much to take in as time passes by, but McDonald finds that thread within the track and runs with it, and the results are inherently brilliant. What an opener. Up next comes 'Back From Canada', that begins in fuller melodic surroundings. The opening chords chime away over the paired back beat, before the backdrop synth line fills the space, as the kicks then align themselves within the track effortlessly. The track moves forward with this notion for a few bars, before the beat becomes half time, moving the track into this new groove that contrasts and builds on the opening salvo, with the snare working over time to craft forward momentum. The melodic features on top operate alongside each other flawlessly, weaving and grooving around each other with pleasure and ease, and as the drums take a quick breather, new key lines emerge and add further weight to the melody. The backing synth line comes back into the mix, with the drums still doing much to add to the progressions and feel of the track, as the track moves on and on with power and purpose. Around the 4:30min mark, McDonald strips things back a little bit, drawing attention to the drums and their rhythmic qualities, with the melodic features moving away to reveal just the initial chord progression and the added key line, and the overall groove is very strong indeed. The track then moves back into its fullness stage, with the feel reintroduced back to us in all its glory, and we couldn't be more for it. Superb shit right here.
Up next we have 'Mind Over Matter (New Mix)', which begins off with the chiming key sequence and the iconic sounds of the 808 to go along with it. Before long, the sequence is joined by the dense as hell bass line, that aligns itself perfectly with the keys, before the kicks arrive and elevate the track to another level entirely. The dynamics between the kicks and bass with the key line on top make for really compelling listening, a relationship forged by the dance and the groove of house music, with the track moving forward with such power and meaning. The snares then signal the introduction of a new element, the sliding chord progression that floats and lands right on top of proceedings, crafting yet another subtle yet brilliant introduction to the track that keeps things ticking over at a steady pace, our journey not yet complete. The tune just goes from there, its ability to continue at such a forceful pace keeping our minds constantly engaged with all the flows and ins and outs of things, with the snares taking one final time to demonstrate their power and energy. A track that could continue until the end of time, the momentum of it all, is just astonishing, absolute house perfection! To finish up this wonderful record, we have the original mix of the previous track, and we begin with the drums already in full slow and the bass line chugging along with all the delight in the world. The drums begin to develop as time passes by, their energy and depth more apparent here without the melodic texture on top, but don't worry that is certainly on its way, and its fade in keeps the fire burning. The chord sequence quickly follows, and we now arrive within the full potential of the cut, and its oh so glorious. McDonald deviates here slightly from the previous mix, with the bass line being upped in pitch, which in turn leads into a drum breakdown, before reverting back to the original structure of the track, as the drums and key sequence take us away one more time. Both mixes are brilliant in their own ways, just depends which one you wish to really immerse yourself in!
This record showcases McDonald's craftsmanship and abilities in relation to the blend of drums and keys, and what we are left with is a honest and powerful series of musical statements that move far beyond the genre in which it inhibits. The music to this day has much staying power, its character and feel one of extraordinary grace but also momentum and feel, with its various progressive and transitional elements keeping us locked in from the first til the last moments. His subtle switches and changes make for a proper listening experience, one which you will become entrapped in and immersed in, which is rare for tracks that move quickly, but such is the relationships between the varying melodic features that you feel emotionally invested in where the songs might go next. A real triumph, a record that sounds so fresh and meaningful today as the moment in which it was first released. A true solid gold classic!
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