House music's throbbing beats, feel-good vibe and bare midriffs will never be mistaken for Rachmaninoff. But the genre's bad rep can actually be attributed to DJs and producers who pander to the lowest common denominator with a steady stream of 4/4 beats and whooshy atmospherics instead of pushing deeper rhythms and more exotic sounds.
With the release of Morphology, the sophomore effort from San Francisco's live dance experience Afro-Mystik, producer, DJ and Om Records boss Chris Smith (a.k.a. DJ Fluid) seems determined to make that push.
Afro-Mystik is party music, but a more complex and varied kind than we're used to hearing. Like his labelmate Mark Farina, Smith uses house only as a reference point. He goes beyond it, exploring a wider variety of rhythms that draws heavily on organic sounds such as Afro-Cuban and Brazilian drum rhythms. Eclectic beats, flutes, wooden wind chimes, ephemeral chants and jazzy strings make up Morphology, perhaps aligning more with jazz than house's single-minded focus on the dance floor.
The vocal tracks, which make up about a third of the album, are more of a mixed bag. Laid-back raps by MC Capital A and spoken word from vocalist Omega vibe nicely to slower, shuffling beats, but the singer's more soulful efforts aren't nearly as interesting. The clean delivery and straight-ahead style feels layered on top of, instead of meshed into, Morphology's multifaceted sound.
But despite some heavy-handed synth lines and the occasionally overwrought studio effect, Smith demonstrates a maturing production talent, delivering a lush and energetic dance floor experience.
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