Review Summary: Detroit, through and through.
House artists aren’t exactly the most prolific in their LP releases. Hailing from Detroit, Omar S is by no means the exception to the rule, with his last full length coming back in 2005. His singles since 2005 haven’t wavered in quality, with some beautiful content like The Further you Look the Less you Will See
and Not Phazed
with Kai Alice. While his Fabric release, simply titled Detroit
, represented his output nicely; his finest release to date has likely been Just Ask the Lonely
. Many house full lengths have suffered only due to inability to adapt to the longer format, here though we do see an exception.
In interviews, the man otherwise known as Alex Smith comes off as unfiltered. The type to be either lauded for telling it like it is, or cast off as arrogant. His Fabric release, the forty-fifth in a long series of mix albums featured material all of his own creation; a move panned by some critics as rather haughty. Yet there is something very real about Smith, having worked for the Ford Motor Company as a day job for much of his adult life. If that’s not to your liking, there is always his underground label FXHE Records, still accepting orders via email only and launching artists that now have considerable reputations like Seth Troxler and Jus-Ed. Though loyal to his small time label, Smith has pulled some heavy punches, with the epic ten minute single Psychotic Photosynthesis
placing twelfth on Resident Advisor’s songs of the decade. There has got to be a reason for the acclaim though, and thankfully it’s easy to see why. There is character to each of Smith’s releases, unfiltered, unconstrained by technological limitations and cognizant of its rich musical upbringing.
The title track from Just Ask the Lonely
is often cited as the pinnacle of the album, and generally as Smith’s finest until the release of Psychotic Photosynthesis
. Arguably though, the former may still hold the title, and choice between the two may be merely one of style preferred. The construction of Just Ask the Lonely
is one of few parts. The song builds on a simple drum pattern, with a double kick thrown in every bar or two. The tension is built superbly, soft piano chords ebbing and flowing as atmosphere in the background, gradually building in volume and forte till they reach centre stage about three minutes in. The song continues to build, the beat evolving and the piano shifting in tone and chord structure. One might construe the song to be minimalism, yet while made of few parts – the song evolves persistently, the foundations never the same for long. The song plateaus six minutes in, an exquisite piano melody reaching deep down to the heart, before making a final push towards the apex of the song. The outro belies the build up, the beat dropping suddenly as if the moment is gone for good. It is hard to capture such an evocative song in words, though the title to the track does offer some notion of its spirit. The track seems worthy of far more than a tired cliché, but the term poetry in motion aptly describes the unique journey of Just Ask the Lonely
Contrasting the softness of the title track is Strider’s World
, the intro pounding like a blunt axe, building up from mute come erratic digital keys and a mesmerising deep organ sounding loop. The contrasting instruments are echoed in the vocal samples, a deep soulful voice interplaying with a polluting and raw one, both singing “Yeah, yeah yeah.” The song’s parts seem to cut at each other, not wishing to work together at all. Thrown in together, the medley of parts forms a very powerful sound. Track #8
and Out of Control
again opt for this raw sound, though an eerie piano lick is implanted in the former. They’re a complete contrast to the title track, and the intro to Track #8
captures the spirit of the three aforementioned tracks, this is real and uncensored.
The rest of the album moves with a lot of groove. Congaless
again the sum of a few parts, moves with a cool rhythm and works its way along without fuss. The album hits again hard with I Love U Alex
, the beat stepped up to a faster pace, contrasting a simple piano not willing to keep up. The vocals are laid underneath, cutting in and out like bad phone reception until two minutes in. The female vocals are then replaced on top of the layers, still chopped up and distorted at the edges. The vocals give way again to the impatient beat, grooving at its own pace. Things are more chilled again in 100% House
, the delicious house groove being the key to the song. Simple keyed licks are used, interplaying with each other. Smith plays around with the timing of the cuts while the groove works on underneath. A Victim
brings in more vocals than the rest of the album, a simple rhythm is worked before the looped female vocals begin repeating “a victim of obsession” and “forget infatuation.”
The magic of the album lies primarily in Just Ask the Lonely
, Strider’s World
, I Love u Alex
and 100% House
. On their own these four don’t work together, but the simple grooves brought in with the rest of the tracks complete the album and tie it all together. There is nothing particularly amazing to the album from a technical aspect. Smith adjusts each song incessantly with a superb knack for subtle shifts and layering; and in a way that makes it easy to forget each song only sums to a few different parts. Neither should the album be construed as minimalism, Smith never settles long enough to justify the term. Instead the album can be described as half deep and moving house, with other parts raw and uncensored. It is a versatile array, but it all traces back to the man Alex Smith in some way. Smith may not be aware of much of his contemporaries’ output, but Just Ask the Lonely
offers 21st century house/techno music that lives up to the legacy of the Detroit scene of the 1980s.