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Juju & Jordash
Clean-Cut Albert Freeman , December 5th, 2014 16:45

Both from a musical perspective and from their frequent appearances onstage behind mountains of equipment either as a duo or joined by Move D in Magic Mountain High, "clean-cut" is not the adjective that would be first picked to describe Juju & Jordash. Originally hailing from Israel and being veterans of the free jazz scene there and elsewhere, the sound of the often house-leaning music that emerges from their studios is a good match for their appearance: shaggy and a bit wild, with easily apparent sophistication and musicianship and a tendency to wander in unexpected ways that have earned them notice. It's not often even better-known dance music producers go on record picking selections from 60s and 70s avant garde jazz with unusual acuity, and as expected their tastes range quite a bit further afield than that, taking in 70s synthesiser experiments, dub, and of course the history of electronic music since then. Their experience and knowledge is certainly deep, but for much of their ten-year existence a concise statement of their art has been notably missing in favor of bits and pieces that grasp certain parts of their character while mostly missing others.

Over the course of three albums, one digital only release and the subsequent two influential in establishing Dekmantel as a force to be reckoned with, there is little that hasn't been touched, be it deep house, techno, bizarre dub tracks, jazz-influenced experiments, and more, and on singles they have gone further into making acidic, pointed commentary about their Israeli origins and the contemporary conflicts and crises inherent in their nationality and religious background. Very little of this sprawl can be called neat, but that's part of the charm of it, and running through the approximate center has been a certain style of cosmic, oddball house that anchors Juju & Jordash's sound and pops up frequently on their more dancefloor-leaning EPs. The albums are different matters entirely, with their eponymous Dekmantel debut rounding up new and previously-released efforts and their sprawling follow-up Techno Primitivism essentially leaving out the techno of the title for the first complete, mature, and encompassing overview of the limits of their capabilities.

Considering this history, titling their newest full-length Clean-Cut makes is an obviously self-conscious move, both a joke in some ways, since they're hardly that, but in the album's structure and scope, also a serious attempt at reeling in the outlying aspects without taking away the musicality and oddness that makes it special. Various degrees of experimental electronics may be very much in vogue, but there's no mistaking these two for newer comers from the music here: few producers would literally title a track 'Wheeze Please' – it's underlain with an repeating, modulated keyboard wheeze – and then throw an electro-house beat to back it amongst all manner of odd noises and somehow make it work. Even fewer could, in just over an hour's running time, bring out quite so many ideas as are found here and combine them with the acuity and sensuality they manage. The album is at once impressively bizarre and impressively listenable, so long as the listener approaches it with patience and open ears.

There's plenty to digest in plain view in every corner. 'Schmofield', like much of the front half, uses a repeating house bassline as its foundation, but then there's the atonal, krautrocking guitar solo that liberally shreds its way through it. The title track and 'Whippersnapper' are more recognisably house, although the bells, bleeps, baby cries, and metallic sheets of synthesiser in the latter go well past the weirdness tolerance of many, and they return to funky, sample-fueled house, with a sheen of cosmic synthesiser, on 'Deadwood City', another of the few dancefloor-leaning efforts. After this point, Clean-Cut mostly leaves that description behind, although even up until here it could easily be regarded as a stretch.

Indeed, the cheeky title and artwork do hint at something, but in narrowing down their sound and making their most focused album to-date, Juju & Jordash dropped both the more conventional end of their house music as well as the sometimes-wandering experiments that occasionally didn't come together. Someone looking for club-friendly crowd pleasers here will be hard pressed, that is unless he's willing to wrestle with very serious musical complexity and unconventional structures and influences that pop up throughout. The album's entire second half moves between various tempos of dancefloor music, connecting most firmly into a groove on 'Anywhere', where the chorus repeats "Take me away from here/I hate everything about this place" to music whose beauty seems almost designed to disguise the sentiment. 'SP Shakes' closes things with another warped jam, part Fela Kuti, part kosmische electronics, part dub, and all bizarrely emotional and effective; it fits right in after the hour that precedes it and fades away quietly as the funky electric bass pulsates.

With all of the advanced experimentation and improvisational flair, it would be easy for this to have amounted to another formidable package of wandering but interesting music like the duo's previous albums, where the discontinuity and open-endedness were both frustrating and liberating. Here, there is a very noticeable effort to trim excesses and tighten the sequencing and production values without sacrificing the range, and the increased focus gives a greater sense of follow-through and is more satisfying on a physical level. The album also shows clear sculpting on a narrative level, and the dense arrangements of the tracks go layers deeper than they have before, sometimes to the point of being disorienting to the listener in the wildest moments. The additional sonic clarity would be necessary to accomplish the ambitious arrangements and structures some of these tracks embrace, and with such diversity of influences as displayed by the duo, the sophisticated and literate combination of them shines even more with the cleaned-up aesthetics.

Juju & Jordash would not be the first artists that needed time to find their footing in a new idiom, and while they were clearly getting there five years in, at ten years time it sounds much closer to the work of masters. Closing the gap between their ripping singles, which often burn club floors, and their more experimental efforts, which set them apart from other contemporary producers, would be a goal only in as much as it was possible to keep their distinctive sound, and Clean-Cut is the furthest they have yet gone to accomplishing this and another step forward in what has been a landmark year for both the duo and for Dekmantel.