Various - Untitled (Partners Inc, 1992)
A melting pot of innovative blends and inventive styles make up this brilliant fusion house record from some of the finest producers to grace electronic music in general.
There are many facets and threads to house music, and coming across records that reside somewhere within the genre's many crossroads is always a feeling of pure joy. During the early 90s, many producers were engaged with the sounds that resonated from Chicago and then seemingly the whole world, with music makers eager to harness the essence of the pioneers and embellish it with their own take on the feelings associated with the genre. The genre would take a more emotive and thought provoking turn, where tender chordal arrangements and dreamy atmospheres flowed from sub genres such as deep house and dream house, alongside those who injected disco and funk samples into the burgeoning disco house narrative, all of which became highly important as the decade would go on. The beginning of the decade saw some excellent jumps in style and perhaps more importantly experimentation, as producers drew power from the previous releases and looked to craft their own visions, their own narratives, into the on going audial discussions revolving around house music. Scenes blossomed as a result, celebrating the roots of it all and incorporating their own sensibilities into incredible Dj sets and excellent vinyls, all looking to imprint themselves into the genre's enriching tapestry. As a result, some labels really made their presence known, primarily through their core values shining through but also demonstrating a real knack for showcasing the widest spectrum of house going, incorporating all the varying threads that abounded with glee during the early 90s and allowing them to flourish under one roof. These labels have a fascinating story to tell, one that weaves around an identity built upon the contexts at the time, alongside incorporating numerous stylings into one singular feel, where music lovers could beckon to and call upon with the reassurance that the quality and tone would be top notch indeed. Imprints began putting together very impressive discographies indeed, a flow of adoration and feel that always came across slightly differently, depending on the context that the label found itself within. Sometimes the tones were abstract, sometimes inherently deep, others funky and jazz tinged, but they all contributed in their own way to the increasingly complex genre of house, with new facets coming to the fore with each passing moment. We look back at these imprints now with respect and admiration, as their story still resonates so strong with us today, its message left in time for all to discover and enjoy all over again, a sound that flickers through the ages to continually inspire and nurture the music lover in us all.
One label that really fits into this narrative very well indeed is the fairly short lived but highly ambitious Partners Inc., that in the space of two short years released a heap of highly ambitious and far reaching house music. The label was one of many sub labels of the legendary UK label Reinforced Records, that influenced the fabric of the British musical landscape indefinitely, with releases from iconic drum and bass/jungle acts like 4Hero, Goldie, Doc Scott, DJ Randall, Manix and many many more. Partners seemed to be one of the many branches out into the house scene that had since exploded in the UK via the Second Summer Of Love, with releases mixed between UK and US releases. The heads behind Reinforced included both Dennis McFarlane (of future Dego fame) and Mark Clair, both of whom founded 4Hero and were responsible for formulating fundamental aspects of the DNA of British electronic music, with the groups productions birthing the broken beat scene and influencing countless others. It only seemed natural for their widely diverse musical passions to result in numerous sub labels for which to gather like minded individuals and themselves together to release equally interesting and intuitive house music. The music contained within the Partners Inc. discography is highly diverse and intricate, with so many of the important threads and narratives on display throughout the handful of releases, from big room vocal garage house to disco tinged groovers, through to dream house tinged progressions and beyond. Its an intoxicating journey through the idealism of it all, where all concepts and experiments seemed so tangible, so achievable, as if the foundations existed merely as guides for boundless expressionism. Its house music with a deeply interesting twist, an additional level of thought and tone that is applied which makes the releases stand apart, a deft bled of vocalism and groovy melodic sequences, all blended together within packages that stand firm with their grandeur and elegance. Looking back through their discography, there's much to admire, and we start off with the excellent 'Untitled' compilation from 1991, that features C.M Toni (who also released as Nu Era), Dennis MacFarlane and Barry Williams in peerless form, and is the first of the 'Untitled Trilogy'; the incredible driving tones that emerge from the 'Love You're Giving Me' record, released in 1992 by Juan-Touch; the impeccable grooves that overflow and multiply on the T.Solomon produced 'Can I Do It', that also arrived in 92'; the superb third 'Untitled' EP, that arrived in 92 with all the brash and bravado of previous efforts under the name; and finally, the big heartfelt dance floor hitter that is the Spoiled Rotten release 'Bring Your Loving Home', that landed in 92 also. In all, the spirit and identity of the label is forged in the progression, a stylistic choice driven by melodic touches that jump so far from the needle and warm the heart strings, all the while demonstrating important steps in countless directions for the genre. Not only that, but the pedigrees of the producers who released on the label is absurd, with so many going on to enjoy lengthy and enormously influential careers. That perhaps makes the small contribution the Partners Inc. story made to it all seem that much more sweet and meaningful, a small cornerstone of a wider collective sound that is seeped in excellence. If you want a fix of superb, driving and musically interesting house, then Partners Inc. deserves some of your passion and investment.
And now we turn to the subject of todays review, the second instalment in the 'Untitled' series, with the second one arriving in 1992, not too soon after the first originally landed. Like with the rest of the releases, the record includes so much excellence in diversity, as the tracks traverse the spectrum of mood and style with such flair and confidence, with a hefty dosage of experimentation thrown in for good measure. Its a proper pairing of US sensibilities with UK interpretation, a wonderful melting pot of styles that showcases the foundations and how they moved and directed those who fell in love the sound. Featuring the talents of Dennis MacFarlane under his Crunchy Nut Cornflakes alias, Mark Clair under the C.M Toni name, and Barry Williams under his Underground Dream alias, the trio have a wonderful understanding between each other, with the music's collective synergy something to behold, as even though the styles on top move between varying contexts, the pulse remains so consistent. One that will move you in the dance, or compel you as you listen at home, it just has this inherent engagement that is so very hard to deny. So, without further delay, lets get into it.....
Up first is Underground Dream and Crunchy Nut Cornflakes with the track 'Tight', and this one starts off in very soft and familiar territories indeed. The chiming chord line dips down then rises up, weaving a segment around the introduced drumming pattern that works so well indeed, with an additional vibraphone line added in for good measure. The overall picture is really beautiful, made even more so when the vocal line comes in, a rising melodic wordless expression that slots into the momentum with all the ease in the world. Subtle additions make the tune move forward wonderfully, with a denser drumming line aligning with the underbelly of the track, as additional keys make their presence known in the backdrop as the density of the cut goes further and further than ever before. The vocal line then moves into a deep rolling segment, adding another level of compulsion to proceedings, as the track keeps the momentum going with the big room keys, that are highly reminiscent of the UK rave sound, their brash and bold nature spreading out on top of the cut with all the euphoria and delight in the world. And like that, the track fades into the night, content in its mission to move the body and the mind. Up next comes the Tremor Mix of 'We Can Work It Out' by Crunchy Nut, and this one begins in similar surroundings to the previous cut. The chiming key line rings out across a bedrock of cymbals and hats, as the kicks align themselves with the progressions moving forward, which then comes full circles as the highly inventive and energetic vocal line swings right into view. The two sets of vocal samples, that moves between 'We can work it' and the fast paced acapella, work wonderfully alongside one another, acting as a balanced level of energy in contrast to the feels that groove along underneath, moving in and out view as the keys take time outs themselves in order to craft a really compelling forward momentum going forward. The overall picture is one of the pure dance, a compulsive feel that resonates deep within us all. Its a total experience, something that draws upon the deep set rhythms of life and gives over something that we can vibe to in its totality. Such a superb groover! Up next comes the 'Vibe Mix' of the previous cut, and the tone slides into view in a differing manner, with new textures and rhythms considered on this one. The main melodic drivers are stripped back, with the keys essentially a rising twinkling stab that grooves right on top of the quickly evolving beat structure, with the vocal lines found somewhere in the backdrop. The deep pads arrive soon enough, their solid nature filling out the backdrop with purpose and meaning, as the cut moves between differing structures in relation to depths and outlines, crafting a very compelling journey that carries you along to the most intoxicating of rhythmic and melodic progressions. Top draw stuff.
And now we move into the B Side of the record, which sees the first of two C.M Toni cuts move into view, with 'Hustle Ain't Over' coming first, and this ones a stomper for sure. The track opens up with the dense as hell yet groovy as fuck drumming patterns moving into view, with a deep bass like stab ringing out over the cut, acting as a anchor of sorts to all the wonderment thats going to flow into our view in a few moments time. The disco boogie samples are hinted at briefly, before reverting back to the original format, and then its time to descend right into the full on melodic picture, a loop that could last a lifetime, with the vocal line fuelling the fires of the dance as the track picks up all kinds of beautiful energies, with the more stripped back sequence moving into view to craft breaks and presence in the flow, and with that over we move back into the euphoria drenched sample line, that seems to keep rising higher and higher with each passing moment. The track then continually transitions between the original melodic light intro sequence before slamming right back into the wonderful rising sample sections, the momentum and energy found within so infectious, as we are gripped by the comings and goings of it all. At a hearty 7 or so minutes long, this is the one to get everyone moving on the floor. A bona fide disco tinged masterpiece. To wrap things up on this mini-masterpiece, we have 'Rhythm Tonight', and the energy reverts back to the deep house tendencies showcased on side A. The vocal line 'You Make Me Beg For More' seems to extend a hand out for us to take, to follow right into the heat of the dance, as the gorgeous key line rises and descends with all the energy in the world, with the drums sliding into view and doing their thing to compliment the keys flatter more tonal feel. The sequence moves onwards for a few moments before the first key switch up occurs, as the original chordal line is replaced by a segment that pummels right through proceedings, rising high and then low with ease and grace, before reverting back to the original chordal sequence and wrapping around our heads once again. The key lines trade blows once more, with the vocal line still ringing true across the top ends of the track, except this time it moves into another line, with a wordless vocal lead adding further intrigue to the comings and goings, The track spends a bit more time exploring all the varying facets that make up its intrinsic sound, quickly flowing between the varying structures with ease and emotion, taking us to another plain one final time as it fades into the night sky, happy to accompany us on any kind of ethereal travel we wish to engage with. An absolute stunner.
As house records go, you sometimes quite like to see the quirky, the powerful and the emotional sitting alongside each other, hand in hand, as we become enamoured with the ingredients on display. All of this is satisfied beyond belief on this superb record, one that stands alone with its excellence but shines even brighter when put alongside its two siblings that really showcase just how forward thinking, inventive and perhaps above all else fun the production trio of MacFarlene, Clair and Williams were. Their deft touches appear all over this record, from the warmth of the keys through to the excellence found in the drums, from the tender melodic features through to the highly inventive and profound vocal samples, it all resides together in this world so wonderfully, a framework of gorgeous tones and feels that over the course of five cuts simply take your breath away. A record that stands out amongst the rest for its cutting edge feel and highly progressive tone, there's something for everyone here, and we warmly invite you to take a dip into its rich message and revel in its significance.
Check out the record here: