Vynehall provides plenty of off-kilter choices.
!K7’s venerable DJ-Kicks series usually lands into one of two categories. Either a straightforward DJ mix that the wizard behind the boards might actually play in the club, or a more meditative, bare-all session that reveals a heaping mess of influences and important tracks from our curator. The best are able to make a facade of the former while secretly sneaking into the latter. DJ Koze’s offering is a high water mark in his own discography but also in the decade’s dance music as a whole, for example. The influences on sleeve action can drag into a vinyl nerd haze that was probably more interesting on paper than on wax.
Leon Vynehall was always going to be a tricky customer for DJ Kicks. Much like Lone’s disc, Vynehall pulls from such a miasma of sound that something cohesive was never going to be possible. As one of the godfathers of Outsider House (or Lo-fi House, pick your ridiculous label), Vynehall was dedicated to DJ Shadow trickery as much as to deep cut disco beats and fuzzed out ambient. His most recent record, Nothing is Still, went even more cerebral and occasionally exiled dance all together, more interested in crafting a smoky, often disturbing mood. So if DJ-Kicks is a slice of a producer’s life and brain, we find a genius at a crossroads. And listeners have an album of cool individual moments that can’t be stitched together into a unified tapestry,
What undercuts Vynehall is a lack of urgency. The British tastemaker does well in more downtempo spaces when he’s making the narrative (Nothing is Still was based on his grandparents’ stories of migration), but in the sounds of other artists, his mix sounds lethargic. That’s frustratingly true at the beginning where a blissed out remix of his own work is quickly followed by a succession of stark tracks that don’t go anywhere or build enough hypnotic quality to become trance inducing. The opening five songs have little connective tissue outside of mere apathy. It’s not until ‘90s funk joint “Set Me Free” that Vynehall finds some energy, making the whole project shift up a gear just on that delectable baseline. Then we settle back in for another few rounds of Vynehall plucking random tunes off the shelf with seemingly little intent. The chugging, clunking vibe of “Moving Forward” would have Madlib salivating for a sample, but in the context of a few ‘80s-vibing dance tracks it makes little sense. Even the original Vynehall tacks on to the same vibe of smog until it only has a minute left. “Ducee’s Drawbar” has a fantastic drum groove and bass hum that only kick in as the song starts to end, the rest of the track brimming with out of place soul vocals and static.
Still, for a starting point down the rabbit hole, Vynehall provides plenty of off-kilter choices and starting packs for Drum & Bass and House. Pavilion’s “Happy Track” has a drum line that’s a perfect sample foundation and Peach’s “Faxing Jupiter” plays out like a much less claustrophobic version of Scuba’s brutal logic. As an exercise in crate digging, there are treasures to be found, but as an album this suffers from discombobulation. As a DJ Kicks addition? It falls somewhere in between.