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Levon Vincent
Levon Vincent Albert Freeman , February 24th, 2015 14:54

In discussing the increasing amount of noise coming from New York's long dormant house scene, a few figures surge forward strongly, but probably none so much so as Levon Vincent, whose emergence to worldwide acclaim at the head of that pack has been as curious to watch as it has been compelling. While producers like Fred P, DJ Qu, or Joey Anderson have honed sounds that are distinctive from their separate beginnings, Levon's music has grown and matured over time; from his nearly-suppressed early efforts on his original More Music NY label, to his sudden re-emergence simultaneously on both Novel Sound and Deconstruct Music in 2008 with a sound much more recognisably focused and his own that has remained mostly inimitable ever since. If his 2008 work brought about fair comparisons to Maurizio, as well as comments concerning the occasionally offensive titles of the tracks, it was fairly clear from early pieces like 'These Games' that Vincent was on his way into new territory. This was confirmed by the steady drift of Novel Sound away from dancefloor utility and towards music that was often quite personal – 'Impressions Of A Rainstorm' – or simply too odd to find its way into most sets, with a bare minimum of club tools like 'Stereo Systems' included to maintain momentum.

Finally arriving in 2015 long after the album debuts of many of his New York cohorts, Vincent's eponymously titled debut full-length confirms the drift of his work away from strictly club-focused fare and into a realm that is direct, personal, and shot through with stylistic ideas that are more and more only his. There's a noticeable lack of floor-ready tracks here, and even those that do work in such context offer challenges to a DJ willing to play them. The always-present touchstones of Vincent's music – New Wave, 1990s New York house, Basic Channel's dub techno accentuated with enormous globs of tape delay – stand out perhaps more than ever, but they're combined with an emotionalism mostly absent from much of his earlier catalogue. Unsurprisingly, he remains a sound engineer par excellence, capable of summoning both subtle and unearthly noise from his studio as the need arises. A track as simple as the 11+ minute 'Launch Ramp To Tha Sky' – little more than delay, marimbas, and finely detailed percussion, with dramatic and unexpected transformations applied to the synthesiser sounds that grow increasingly unhinged as it reaches the end – somehow manages both uncommon emotional nakedness and sonic experimentalism bordering on Krautrock extremes. A paean to a lost pet, in other hands a pitfall of self-indulgence, instead is both unexpectedly bright and sincerely melancholic.

As the title implies, Levon Vincent remains himself throughout; especially on the first half of the album, where he reveals sides of himself rarely seen before. Most noticeable is the heavy application of melodic elements alongside the standard delay explosions. 'Her Light Goes Through Everything', compared both in title and content to 'Invisible Bitchslap', is the work of an altogether more introspective and sensitive artist, even if familiar elements remain. The entire first two sides of the album essentially avoid house music entirely and explore the rigid sequence patterns of his New Wave influences at length, at first delicately and emotionally on the A-side and then in uncommonly ferocious, industrial form on 'Junkies On Herman Strasse', its confrontational/possibly humorous title one of the few things here that looks back to Levon's earlier days.

An entire album of off-putting experiments would without doubt be alienating to the listeners who cleaved so strongly to his series of floor-wrecking tracks that established his fame, but the comparably more reserved and straightforward second half of the record still makes large detours and remains consistent with the emotional tone set from the first bars. Things get reeled into a steady house beat to be sure, but 'Black Arm w/Wolf' leads off this deeper end with some of the most unabashed melodic content yet. There's many layers at work, some of which seem almost borrowed from New Age music in their gauzy textures, the light-but-muscular push of the chord changes in the pads and bass line and the filtered choir all accentuating the introspective drive, and the kick drum hovering in the background, only emerging noticeably at the barest moments. 'Confetti' is preoccupied with manipulation of a vocal sample that could be considered sexual or outright cheese, especially when juxtaposed against the delay washes and busily insistent synthesiser arpeggios that make up the remainder of the piece.

It's only on the last plate of the album where Levon finally gets down to the business of burning club floors that earned him his reputation, most blatantly on 'Anti-Corporate Music', a piece whose title show him tackling larger issues but which comes across immediately as the most recognizable relative to his older output. It's essentially dub techno, very finely detailed and idiosyncratic in a way only he is capable of making, the explosions of feedback and steady chug of the unchanging drums offset by extremely nuanced mixing and transformation of a single synthesiser sequence for most of its duration. Again he pulls a late coup, introducing an anthemic, repeated melody in the high register in a melodica-esque timbre, before the bass line surges from underneath with a newly formed jazz feeling. The final two pieces apply orchestral elements to nearly ridiculous extremes, with the incessant stabs in different registers in 'Small Whole-Numbered Ratios' intentionally repeating to the point of numbing, similarly to mid-period Steve Reich; the electronic elements introduced later bring it slightly closer into line with conventional house but confuse his mission not at all. As if coming full-circle, 'Woman Is An Angel' confronts the brutal dismissal of his early 'Woman Is The Devil' head on, subverting the one-note dub techno familiar from his early productions with more insistent orchestral elements that eventually build to a peak without quite derailing the stasis.

With a career now spanning over a dozen years, Levon Vincent has proven himself both an uncommonly creative and restless producer who has often courted controversy in his public statements and stubbornly stuck to his own ideas of his music and where he wishes to take it. It's certain that crowds could have taken many more near-copies of his club smashes, but he left other producers the task of recreating them and has rarely looked back. His eponymous debut album – eponymous because that seems the only title he could use – is at turns subtle, delicate, naked, brutal, and deeply affecting in a way rarely managed by contemporary dance producers, and it's both a continuation of his previous work and a departure further than ever before from the DJ weapons that made his reputation.  

Much like his DJ sets, which place uncommon juxtapositions and moments of intense emotion ahead of virtuosity for dramatic effect, Vincent's music in its maturity is increasingly throwing out the rule book and taking whatever forms it feels fit. At four records and running well over an hour in length, there's definitely a sprawl here, but with the range he's demonstrated it's hard to call any of it superfluous. Perhaps it's not possible to agree with or understand all of the divisive rhetoric and dark undercurrents, but in an era where musicality and clear emotion seem an increasingly lost quantity in club music, it is difficult to argue with these results.