Various Artists - Velvet Series No.2 (Flexi Cuts, 2021)
One of the most compelling labels going keeps the fires very much burning on their latest release, which once again brings together some fierce talents who showcase their styles to a fantastical degree.
Keeping a sense of variety and dynamism going strong throughout a record label's releases is always a sign of shifting visions and points of view, along with showcasing the great strengths of a certain genre or set of genres through the eyes of like minded individuals. In the contemporary age, standing still seems to be less and less of an option for artists and imprints, with a greater emphasis placed on the ideals of cross-pollination and looking beyond the parapet coming to the surface on a more regular basis. Morphology starts to become a key aspect of the narrative, where each release feels like a beautiful addition to an already compelling set of sounds which does much to fuel our intrigue and develop stronger and stronger bonds with the listener. Across a wide range of labels we are starting to see these ideals take on more and more forms, be it with artists who diversify their sound within the parameters of a record or with a collection of producers who all share similar audial spaces and frequencies, with both serving as a gateway to providing a balanced and highly engrossing sound. When labels spend their focuses on compiling these kinds of records, the results are always highly encouraging, and as a result will always have the front foot facing forward in respects to pushing their own possibilities and visions in relation to sound. This is no more clearer on compilation records, where the label bring together old friends and new faces in order to represent and further establish the imprint's audial identity, with new ideas transposed alongside tried and tested audial frequencies, with the results always forming into something very exciting indeed. Some labels even look to this formula as the grounding for much of their work, with a number of imprints focusing on the V/A format as a means to provide continual momentum to their development, and this works so very well in a myriad of ways. It's a method of keeping the identity of a label ticking over, a scope that adapts and conforms as much within itself as it does to the sounds of others, and this works beautifully as a means to continue exploring and delving into a set of genres that operate as the label's lifeblood. It's a space for experimentation, for collaboration and for continual definitions of sound and technique, with the resulting collection of tracks giving listeners hefty amounts of inspiration and feeling, and at the end of the day that is something we continuously strive for. It's a gift that comes to us with multiple benefits, one that emphasises the meanings of collaboration and the celebration of all that a genre has to offer, whilst also doing much to move the momentum onwards, placing it's tone right on the front foot and helping to keep that label at the cutting edge of the conversation. No matter how much you look at it, there's always going to be longevity in creating records that speak to us on multiple levels, be it for the times where the dance beckons to us or indeed when we find ourselves at home, engaging with the music on a more calming plain of existence. To do both is a real achievement, and one that helps to maintain the music's meaning in all senses, rather than just the singular, and with that narrative going on strong we always remain intrigued any time a new record arrives to us from a particular imprint. Immersing yourself in a record is always a treat, but when the flows within a 5 tracker move swiftly and with great purpose, there's even more of a reason to maintain a connection with that record, to be a part of it and remain close to it, as you never know what you might continue to find or indeed what you might encounter on their next release - it's all part of the magic.
All of these ideals and more remain very much present within the records presented to us on the Flexi Cuts label, which since 2017 has championed the concept of the various artists five tracker alongside some future classics from equally diverse singular artists and groups. The label was founded by Simone Guerra (who also releases music under the Relative name), who alongside Lorenzo Guerra runs the Flexi Discs record shop in Ravenna, Italy, and it's perhaps this grounding within a record shop environment that has provided the basis for the label and it's ideals. The parameters for the label are very much set within the realms of House, but within it's walls there is plenty of engrossing styles to get involved within, as a seemingly never ending array of styles and feels keep floating our way from each release. You have a number of cuts that point to the deep expanses of the 90s era, or the cutting edge techy flavours of the 00s, and of course the melting pot of feels that surround the contemporary scene, which remains a vibrant celebration of all eras in many ways, and Flexi Cuts in many ways offers up all of these with boundless enthusiasm and a taste for the unexpected. All the producers who flock to the label seem to have a special touch and application, one that feeds into a wider consciousness but also stands tall as an individualised item, with the experience providing both an experience that works well on the dancefloor as much as it does in the comforts of home. The overarching theme is one of the coming together of heads into a shared space, where music makers feel comfortable giving over a part of themselves into the collectivised environment and providing a tune - or collection of tunes - that only adds fuel to the label and it's audial identity. This is of course evident in the label's various artist records, which number a fair few up to this point and always serve as wonderful reminders of the power of flowing from one track to the next, effortlessly grooving between the lines and layers as we get continually shown around an ever evolving audial environment that remains filled to the brim with excitement and class. It's a feeling that runs through pretty much all of their releases, with some of our favourites including the debut 12", '...Finally on 12", which was released by Relative back in 2017, and features 2 versions of two cuts that creates a remix feel to proceedings, and it's pretty wonderful; the ever impressive 2017 'Piada Vibes' VA record, which was the first of it's kind on the imprint, and helps to set the stage for things to come; the equally impressive emotions found on the 'Vol 2' record of the Piada series, which came out in 2018; the deep and spacious feels of the 'Close Your Eyes and Jus' Fantasize' record, which came out in 2019 and was written by Relative and Detroit icon Javonette; the beauty and the majesty that is the 'Vibin' Places' release from Club Soda, which arrived in 2020; and finally, the wickedly eclectic feels that abound from the 'Incognito Trax 001' record, which arrived in 2020 also. In all, the label has curated a series of strong as hell bonds that interlink so delightfully between the various releases, with plenty to shout about in terms of depth and musicality alongside a huge scale in relation to genres and style, with the narrative which leaps out at you one of superbly balanced development and progression. You never stand still but merely move along with the times, soaking it all up as each releases passes by with as much meaning and passion as the last, with the beats and keys echoing through time, reminding us always of the incredible depth and presence that always remains very close to the surface. There's a little bit here for everyone, so why not go back in time a little and go and check out their works, you really will have a lot of fun.
And now we arrive at their latest release, 'Velvet Series n.2', which features many familiar faces as we continue to see the wonderful development of this label. Like with many of the previous VA collections, there's plenty of dynamism and forward thinkingness, with all the producers featured taking all the time they need in order to whip up a storm, and whip a storm they certainly do, as we flow from one vibe to the next, the transitions effortlessly capturing the intricate movements you might expect to see in the best kind of DJ set, but with plenty of individuality thrown in for good measure as we swing from one side of the dance floor to the next. Despite the outwardly dance floor leaning tone, there's so many layers in here that make repeat listens in a home context feel like a necessity, in order to get completely around all that is on show here. Compilation records are a great showing of a label's versatility and scope, and Flexi Cuts continue to smash these factors right out of the park, with this record absolutely no different - in fact, it might be their most bold record to date. So, on that note, lets dive right into this little gem....
Up first comes Brine with the track ‘Your Body’, and this one begins with the drumming loops to get us going. Their presence is full bloodied and expansive, with a hefty dosage of precision and clear cut-ness, with their sequence providing plenty of room for the melodic sequence to come sliding into view, which arrives in the form of the looping three chord arpeggio sequence. This line leads the way as the vocal line swings in and out view on top, it's momentum keeping things going as we swing in and out of time and space, with the bass line arriving to add further depth. The track then breaks it down as we move into the next phase, that sees an additional acid line emerge to add texture and presence, with the track doing wonders to move the body and soul. Top notch. Up next comes Daughters & Sons with their track ‘Benerice’, which features Miss Daisy, and the vibe sounds very much like a certain Abacus track. The tones that unravel from the off are delicately poised, placed in all the right spots to provide a textural feel which is hard to deny, it's environmental presence so very strong and beautiful. The vocals make their presence known throughout, speaking of loving neighbours, the city of Detroit and being respectful to one another, and these words resonate very much so with the keys that unravel underneath, with the key solos that come out way unravelling In the most delicate and surprising of ways, with our heads placed deep within it's layers so that we can look all around and soak it up. Gorgeous stuff. Manuold is up next with the track ‘Acid Puff’, and this one starts off with the kicks to get us going. The drums are suitably upbeat, with plenty of spaces within the structure for new elements to blossom, with this occurring as the background becomes filled with the solid chordal line, it's wavering presence doing much to add scale to proceedings, and as time passes by we see the chords begin to emerge, and it's a glorious introduction indeed. The chord begins as a singular to begin with, but then doubles up in spectacular fashion, with this kind of doubling up effect providing this wonderful sense of dynamism that runs from head to toe, never for one moment letting us lose sight of what is going on. It's an emotional cut, involving us from the off set and continuing to involve us as time passes by, The acid then emerges as a key progressive element, with it's form weaving in and out of the spaces set by the chordal arrangement, as we dip and dive through all kinds of meandering slides and hazy momentum fuelled switches that all work so very well. Top draw stuff.
Up next comes TenGrams with the track ‘Rapid Eye Movement, and this one begins with the moaning synth line to get us going. The electro style beat quickly joins into the momentum, as the bass notes swing and groove deep within the structure with a feverish intensity, never faltering in their quest to keep the pulse going on strong, and this is when the key line arrives to simply blow everything away. It's application is so poised, it's sequencing flowing with the utmost of elegance as it dips and dives through the hat line to create an audial environment that feels incredibly light and airy, but with plenty of density in which to sink your teeth into. The beats cut out for a moment to provide the composition with some air, but you know the spaces aren't going to be left alone for long, and the build up occurs over a slightly more drawn out series of phases on this one with the key line leading the way right from the off, with the kicks taking their time to move back into view. When it all comes back together as one, it's pretty damn marvellous, as we continue to drift through the confines of space and time. Stellar work. Calma is up next with the track 'Dreaming Pad', and the title track begins to say it all as time passes by. The way in which the intro builds and builds, then builds some more is a real delight, with the deep expansive two chord progression leading the way in the backdrop as the drums on top grow in the most organic of ways, their complexity only multiplying over and over as time passes by. We continue to drift up top above it all, marvelling at the way in which the track breaks down to include some dynamic diving chordal lines transposed with vocal flickerings, with this breakdown doing wonders to the mind before transitioning right back into the initial chordal progression. There is so much emotion injected into this, with the looping acidy line that slides into view not long after only intensifying the textural potential of the track, with this sequence then utilised as the key forward momentum as we slide into the final phases of the track. Beautiful stuff. To wrap things up, we have Gloved Hands with their track 'Rice Cracker', and this one begins with some wonderful melodic touches indeed. The pads sweep and delve across the pan, moving from side to side with a delightful sway that just mesmerises all that it touches, as a singular kick cuts through the haze with a slow chug like feel that only hints at more to come. The beat then evolves into something very special indeed, deconstructing itself before sliding into this incredibly slowed down feel, it's pace providing the perfect soundboard for the filtering chordal arrangements to slide across upon, as we get stuck somewhere in the middle of it all. It's a beautiful ender to a record filled to the brim with all manner of styles, spaces and moods, a record that you could dip your hand into and pick out anything and be amazed by what was being offered to you. A true gem, and a reminder of the artform of the VA record.
Various Artist records often say a lot about the character of an imprint, it's intentions and it's ambitions, and how it wants to offer itself to us listeners, and Flexi Cuts have managed to curate something truly special in both their compilation records and their singular artist releases. There's an enormous amount of care that goes into all the music found on the label, be it more heavy hitting house cuts or delicate weaving slices of eclecticness, you never quite know what to expect but you also do at the same time, and that's where the magic truly lies. On this record, we are subject to a dazzling array of sounds, where enticing house leaning numbers intermingle with gorgeous floating tonal compositions that do much to transfix us as we meander through fields under the evening sky. Be it on the dancefloor, at home or in some beautiful spot, these tracks will be your perfect companion, no matter where you find yourself in the world, and that says a lot about the excellence of Flexi Cuts. A wonderful record, indeed.
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