Form — an element of progressive dance music that’s so crucial in developing a cohesive, interesting, and above all groovy construction. When it comes down to it, if a piece doesn’t have a direction and a purpose, if it just loiters and stagnates, the microcosm created by the composer flops and, often subconsciously, the listener will react negatively. Of course, this isn’t to say there’s only one way to arrange a work in the gamut of house, techno, “EDM,” etc. — countless musicians of the past and present have played with audience’s expectations by experimenting with innovative ways to rearrange the necessary sections of a work — but the importance of a piece’s flow and overall consistency can’t be overstated.
After only a few listens into Erskine Falls, Andras Fox’s skill as an arranger comes to the fore. Moving away from his earlier focus of sleek hip-hop instrumentals, themselves reminiscent of the days before the dominance of side-chain, this EP sees Fox tackling the refined and clean domain of downtempo house. Although the transition of production styles seems bold, it actualizes itself in a logical manner, Fox applying similar compositional practices from earlier works to this “new” sound. Rather than a significant change, it’s more of a natural progression.
The first few seconds of opening track “Native Dance” highlight Fox’s adoption of these downtempo idiosyncrasies; shakers, cowbells, and congas from digital production presets conjure a deep 90s rainforest groove, before synths stab in with slow-moving chords and a super-catchy ostinato. The track progresses in a relatively linear fashion, Fox utilizing an addition-subtraction process with variation over time to provide a sense of horizontal movement and direction, steering away from the predictability of building, dropping, and rebuilding around key hooks. It’s a refreshing listening experience, offsetting the catchiness of Fox’s grooves with a logical method that never feels present — its intelligence is in its casual appearance and its subtlety.
The deeper and far slower title track is similar in its construction, but the palette is expanded to include ethereal washes of watery sound fitting for its title. With more of an emphasis on repetitive variation, “Erskine Falls” develops at a noticeably lesser rate, but not to its detriment; Fox allows the groove to sit and stew, flipping elements slyly over many repetitions, an allusion to the hyper-intense but detached craft of Maxmillion Dunbar. “Soft Illusions” sees Fox’s full capacity shine through, crafting a truly infectious beat underneath instantly recountable melodies. It’s the attention to the finer details of melody, rhythm, and texture without over-complicating things that drives this track in particular.
Repetition, variation, contrast — alongside adopting a focused and colorful soundworld, Andras Fox’s careful manipulation of his material (with a considered approach favoring legitimacy over-complexity) marks out Erskine Falls as a memorable and incessantly groovy downtempo affair that, for all its simplicity and clarity, sticks around in the head long after listening to it.