Teklife veteran broadens his voice in new, daring ways...
'Open Your Eyes'

‘Open Your Eyes’ sees the Chicago footwork veteran, and Teklife lynchpin, DJ Earl (AKA Earl Smith) return with his most fully realised, detailed and expansive full length to date.

Following on from April’s ‘Reggie Sackz EP’, the producer has teamed up with the critically acclaimed and stylistically mercurial Warp signee Oneohtrix Point Never, who, in addition to mixing the album, collaborates on three of its tracks. While Smith has already shown his prowess at exploring the interplay between frenetic, simmering percussion and ethereal, oscillating synths on previous records, this album, the second released by the Teklife imprint (the first was Rashad’s ‘Afterlife’), mines deeper into that rich seam. The result is a series of beats that will both delight longstanding listeners, and attract a new audience to a sound some might wrongly dismiss as superficial or hyperactive.

That is not to say that this is an album that compromises. It is juke to its core, a fact underlined by the multiple collaborations with labelmates Taye and Manny, as well as fellow Chicagoan, MoonDoctor. And while the latter joins with Smith and OPN for the release’s most obvious divergence from the genre, ‘Let’s Work’, which exploits a four-to-the-floor rhythm some may find excessively rigid, this mild departure doesn’t disappoint. The track layers funk-flecked guitar strings, a woozy, alluring jazz solo and a reverberating vocal clip over the machine-like automation of the drums, to create a track that touches on ideas also present in the work of DJ Paypal, as well as giving musical substance to the creative tension between industry and leisure.

Smith delivers a record that combines sonic punch with a nuanced and wide-ranging sound palette; one which swings from the wistful synths and stuttering drums of ‘Smoking Reggie’, to the dread-laden orchestral arrangement of ‘Drumatic' (think souped-up Danny Weed-era grime) and ties it all up with the subtly optimistic notes of the closing track, a collaboration with producer and songwriter Suzi Analogue. The provenance of the artwork (it was designed by Shepard Fairey, the artist behind the iconic Obama ‘Hope’ poster) and the decision to give the eight-track a full vinyl release might give some indication of the credibility of Smith’s intent here – to advance the genre’s already formidable presence on the underground circuit, and further cement its position worldwide. It is an aim that will likely be achieved.

8/10

Words: Alex McFadyen (@alexmcf_)

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