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Various Artists - Next Lightyear - South African Underground House & [Black Catalogue - 2020]

As an avid listener of underground dance music, I was thrilled to receive this Various Artists compilation from Black Catalogue titled Next Lightyear - South African Underground House & Experimental II. South Africa may sound like an exotic prospect to some, but it's home to much of my favorite current psytrance, including internationally known titans like Sangoma Records, PsynOpticz Records, and Nexus Media. I know the Cape Town area to have a vivid and forward-thinking dance scene that influences the world over. Having thoroughly explored South African trance, I was curious to hear some underground house.

Typically house music that is given an 'experimental' tag is ambient, spacious, lo-fi, and avant-garde in its sensibility, designed for introverted home sessions more than dancefloors. Therefore, I wasn't too surprised by the windy rushes of the opener "ERA" by !Sooks. After a few minutes of rustling leaves, the piece becomes decidedly warmer with the introduction of filtered, deep chords that seem to transport us back to a sunlit playground from many years ago.

African inflected rhythms have long been present in the work of American and European afro-futurists like Ron Trent or Joe Claussell. It's only natural that this style would then be created by native Africans. The shuffling, swinging pulse grounded by the gently insistent 4/4 is a milder cousin of the frenzied groove of 70's Afrobeat jazz, one that allows for breathing room and contemplative thought. The spoken native language vocals in tracks such as Cornelius SA's "Now (Dyson Remix)" blend naturally.

Most of the material here has a reductionist dub techno thought pattern, achieving balance with interplaying grooves between a handful of elements. One can hear each sound dissolve fluidly back into the deep cavernous interior. The timbres here are analog, the pieces composed using classic and vintage means, with roots in the history of Chicago and Detroit. With its gritty but vivid sound, this would be a perfect release to hear on vinyl.

Claudio's "Moonspheres (ft. Simeon)" is an outright soulful, smooth groove with delicate piano playing and emotionally affecting chord changes. Sio's "800 Minutes (Jonny Miller's Threesixty Broken Mix)" is a smoky, multifaceted vocal tune with an offbeat garage pulse. At moments such as this, one may not know this music came from Africa. It is convincing in its powerful evocation of classic American house music and UK garage.

In the latter half, Simeon's "Reflection" graced my ears with its nostalgic lushness and thoughtfully composed arpeggiation, a lovely exercise in analog pads, and saw waves. I especially enjoy the faint field recordings of nature added into the backdrop. The halftime dub of DeepCuba's "Till the End of Time" is a welcome contrast, a further pulling back of density resolving in a lovely reverie of seashore sounds. The intelligent future jazz/bass music of closer "Free" by Daev Martian is dazzling indeed and shows the pervasive influence of modern R&B and neo-soul creeping into other styles.

With only seven tracks, I am left wanting more, but surely this is a good thing, and there's nothing here I would omit. Each somehow captures the essence of an atmosphere perfectly with simplistic means. After hearing these seven lovely tunes, I promptly bought the first volume. Highly recommended for chillout and house listeners, fans of vintage nostalgic vibes, and analog equipment.

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Josh Landry
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