John Roberts: Glass Eights (Dial)
John Roberts brings a certain something extra to the Dial roster, all the while tucking neatly within the sound the label’s been exploring for the last decade. Ostensibly this is minimal tech house, functional for a dancefloor, but Roberts’ approach is unique. More often than not he uses slightly warmer, less crisp sounds, combining samples and original arrangements with a nod to intimate jazz ensembles without tipping into cheese. This isn’t “jazzy house” by any means, but warm minimal electronic music that has a human element with touches of piano, upright bass and more. All those references aside, though, at its heart, this is pure Dial. Warm drum programming (a bit “dulled,” never too punchy or crisp), meandering chord progressions that aren’t entirely catchy but still somehow work, treated piano, liberal use of reverb… many tracks could just as easily pass as Lawrence or Pantha du Prince. But often Roberts lends his unique touch to the tracks, such as the delicate piano work of “Interlude (Telephone)” or the crinkly lo-fi sedated house of “Lesser.” And the more straight-up dancefloor tracks, where the arrangements are a little more direct, are welcome change-ups in the flow of the album: “August” has really handsome contrasts between its fluttering synth stabs, flimsy melody, more pronounced rhythm tracks and incidental ornamentation, and the closing title track has a nice, thickened tuned-down quality in its rhythm section (sounding like the entire drum track has been slightly pitched down to be muted and distorted). It’s also worth noting that the entire album is mastered lower than a lot of other current dance music, steering clear of the generous compression that typically plagues current releases. This makes listening significantly easier on the ears and enhances the experience.