Hearing a tuned-up Brandy vocal sample floating over a pounding four-four bass drum or glittering synth is commonplace in the club these days. From Blawan’s ‘Getting Me Down’ and Burial’s ‘Fostercare’, both sampling Brandy’s ‘I Wanna Be Down’, to Bonobo sampling ‘Baby’ in his recent release ‘Kerala’, this tendency towards the R&B vocal – not just Brandy – finds a point of origin in the Canadian producer Jacques Greene’s work.
Since his 2010 breakthrough single ‘(Baby I Don’t Know) What You Want’, released on London’s Night Slugs imprint and featuring a chipmunk sample of ‘Foolish’ by Ashanti, Greene’s brand of emotive vocal, maximal melody and pulsating rhythm has spearheaded a movement of club-chopped R&B and House whose other proponents include Machinedrum, Kingdom and Jubilee, to name just a few. It’s surprising then that a producer noted for such an influential and specific sound, not to mention for his prolific remixing of Ciara, Radiohead, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and others, is only now releasing his debut LP, ‘Feel Infinite’.
It may look like Greene has missed his moment for a debut, but the arrival of this record is merely another release from an artist who has always eschewed the temptations of commercial success. Since his 2011 track ‘Another Girl’ was released, it has racked up over four million plays on Spotify, a response that could have seen Greene cross over into commercial productions, yet he continued releasing on independents like Glasgow’s LuckyMe and Uno, even when Drake chose his track ‘Know Yourself’ to open his first ever Beats One show with.
In a Red Bull Music Academy Lecture given last year, Greene cited that the album release marks not a debut but the culmination of the current incarnation of the Jacques Greene project. Referring to Matisse’s exhaustive cut-outs and his process of seemingly endless refinement to reach an end-point of purity in design, he made the comparison of his own work in its fine-tuning and paring down of elements since his first release seven years ago. Without having heard ‘Feel Infinite’ this might come across as a grandiose statement, but after listening, it seems perfectly apt.
From the punctuated inhalation of breath that greets the listener on opener ‘Fall’, acting as an emotional gesture of humanity amongst the machine-music, a rhythmic component akin to a snare hit, it’s clear that this is a record of subtlety and depth. As breath merges into vocals and a rumbling bass synth builds, we expect a melody of thumping proportions. Instead, the track fades into the eponymous ‘Feel Infinite’, which delivers on the euphoric crescendo set up by ‘Fall’. Here we get the first taste of Greene’s impeccable ear for melody and confidence in minimalism to instigate dance floor catharsis. The off-beat keyboard stabs bring to mind the brand of maximalism perpetuated by Hudson Mohawke and Lunice’s TNGHT project, especially in their monster 2012 ‘Higher Ground’ release with its apocalyptic horns. Yet, Greene achieves a similar effect without resorting to the trap low-end, instead tantalising the listener with its implication.
Much of the record has the feel of the early 2010s, the period of Jacques Greene’s first ascension into the spotlight. Whilst the title track might reference TNGHT, ‘To Say’ plays as a counterpart to ‘Another Girl’ with its infectious vocal loop and ‘I Won’t Judge’ explores Greene’s darker edge, bringing to mind Burial and his 2012 ‘Street Halo/Kindred’ release. ‘Feel Infinite’ references these touchstones of recent electronic music history without lapsing into nostalgia though; ‘True’, featuring a vocal from How To Dress Well, is the most commercial-leaning track on the record and displays Greene’s perfection of the balancing-act between making tracks that feel just as at home in the club as on the radio currently.
Other highlights include ‘Dundas Collapse’, which references the tuned-up sampling and loose low end of Greene’s contemporary Machinedrum, and up-tempo ‘Real Time’ and ‘You Can’t Deny’, both tracks that find the listener in the familiar Jacques Greene territory of bright melody and driving rhythms.
For listeners who were expecting a departure from the sound showcased in Greene’s previous EP and singles, ‘Feel Infinite’ will come as a disappointment. Yet, for fans of his sound, a sound so broad and palatable it has the capacity to appeal to vast swathes of listeners, ‘Feel Infinite’ is a perfectly sequenced manifesto of Greene’s work up to date. Less of a debut and more of a bookend, it listens like an aural autobiography of Greene’s influences and productions, a release that will satisfy old fans as well as find new ones without compromising the clarity of his vision.
Words: Ammar Kalia
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