“I’ve been working with a few great musicians”, says Brian d’Souza on Beats in Space, as he elaborates on the ride his second LP has taken him on over the past two years. “It’s been nice to collaborate…it’s meant that the whole process has taken about a million times longer than it should have!”
Patience and a penchant for collaboration are characteristic of d’Souza’s career to date. A glance at Highlife, the label and night co-ran with Andrew Thomson and Esa Williams attests to this. The three of them have nurtured the project from humble beginnings in Glasgow’s Stereo to acclaimed brand with careful consideration, and working with others to achieve this success has always been at the fore. Recently, the excellent Highlife Global Series evidenced this philosophy.
Revelations about the creative process of Theory of Flo, out now on Huntley + Palmers, might be a given for the studied fan then. For those less versed in the Glaswegian baseds, Goa-born producer, it’s clear from the off alliance is the name of the game. Whether its through his close partnership with Esa throughout Auntie Flo’s tenure, or a more recent collaboration with Ghanaian singer Anbuley, who features on six of the 10 tracks. Her presence is felt right from the off, as she steadily drives the albums opening gambit ‘Shingai’ toward a prolonged breakdown where emotive resonance, built through excellent vibraphone playing, shines.
Cape Malay Fear’ comes next and is one of three interludes on the album. Synths rapidly become engulfed in a cacophony of field recordings, providing an early break before ‘So in Love’ dispels any ideas of the album taking much of a breather. Anbuley is back with English vocals, processed through delays and reverbs and laid over production that morphs from delicate chord progressions to something far more mechanistic and menacing.
The long play’s heavy scrutiny in the electronic music spectrum is well known. Four to the floor tracks are lumped together and packaged as an ‘album’ but often neglect the essential element of the format – a journey. Yet Theory of Flo consciously avoids this convention. ‘Dreamer’, a four-minute loop of Anbuley’s vocals over a dense soundscape has no kick, but this shouldn’t obscure patent quality. It is in fact one of my favourite tracks of the release, and sets the trend for the following track ‘Waiting For A Women’. which plays out much the same. These ambient respites are the albums introspective spaces, and add weight to the kick drum when it rears its eager head once more.
‘Dance Ritual’, divided in two tracks, proves the merit of this earlier restraint. Part 1 builds tension, combining vocal chanting with terse percussion and reverberated steel pans, before the kick enters in Part II. There’s warming euphoria in the blend of emotive Ghanaian singing, keys and snappy drum programming, but this doesn’t dwell for long, switching up for hip house vibes around the three-minute mark before closing the track with more ecstasy.
An interesting facet of the LP is the way some tracks intermingle. Take the way ‘Hewal3’ moves into the penultimate ‘Mandla In Space’. It’s seamless, and the removal of a stop-start experience keeps the listener rooted in the moment. The only criticism here is why this concept doesn’t play out even more. Practically this’d be a tall order, but the idea of continuous aural submergence is highly appealing.
‘For Mihaly’ signals the journey’s end. Melancholic strings come centre stage for a rare moment in the spotlight, laced over the top of a distorted bassline which sounds like the mean older brother to Nils Frahm’s ‘All Melody’. The voice recording entering the mix at six minutes (sounding like an archived political speech) provides a cinematic touch to a mournful finale.
When asked in the RA feature on Highlife back in September about inspiration, d’Souza cited Paul Gilroy’s book The Black Atlantic as a seminal influence. In the publication, Gilroy argues for the creation of a black Atlantic culture, not specifically African, American, Caribbean, or British, but all of these at once. Cultural transcendence allows for the production of a new one. I wonder then, whether this is d’Souza and Williams’ Theory of Flo? The album certainly goes beyond making mere cultural reference points through bona fide engagement with artists around the globe (some of the album was even produced in Cuba). If the aim was to create originality through genuine collaborations, this has potently been realised.
Theory of Flo is out now on Huntleys & Palmers / Kompakt. Buy it from the Auntie Flo website.