Anthony Naples Smacks [EP]

[Proibito; 2015]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: deep house, “outsider house”, “IDM”
Others: Bobby Browser, Galcher Lustwerk, latter-day Four Tet

Electronic dance music is at a crossroads. Thanks to the science of torrenting and a saturation of YouTube tutorials, self-styled 15-year-old SoundCloud DJs can now download the digital audio workstation of their choice free-of-charge within minutes, making club-ready beats faster than you can say “intellectual property.” And they’re good, too.

Smelling blood in the water, corporate labels have doubled down on an increasingly successful business model sustained by an exclusive diet of high-fat, low-cal EDM™ — a homogenized mode engineered by the top 1% of the Creative class: name-brand macro-house producers like Calvin Harris, Diplo, Skrillex, et al. All this, of course, intersecting both dependently and independently with the wider cultural acceptance of electronic dance music as a valid form subject to popular attention and critical evaluation.

Not only is the profit motive of record label giants directly at odds with the further democratization of dance music-making — the invisible hand can jerk me off — it also threatens to usurp its very history. In music, as in life, narratives are written in reverse. And, as has been noted here and elsewhere, early electronic dance music — disco and house, among other styles — was both very queer and very black: a fact often forgotten, or simply ignored, amid the big, soaring choruses and relentless whoa-oh-ohs of contemporary EDM™.

To trace a complete oral history of house music, though, would be at once exhausting and discursive; what we are left with, regardless, is sonic fallout. “Outsider house” — a dubious, convenient term — should then denote the aesthetic reconceptualization of house music’s most basic, incorruptible parts: four-to-the-floor kick patterns, sparse vocals, syncopated hi-hats, synthesized beats. This, coupled with a concurrent thematic deepening applied holistically to form a more perfect, more nuanced union: a better-looking assassin.

It is this house that producers like Anthony Naples have made their home. And right on the heels of his 2015 debut album Body Pills, Naples has released Smacks on his very own Proibito Records. Longer than its older sibling and toting four meandering jams that average at about eight minutes, Smacks is an EP in name only. It is low-concept by default, a fractal centered around a vague notion of melancholy, what Naples helpfully defines as “between hopeful optimism and also feeling like, ‘Yeah, this kinda sucks.’” Smacks, then, occupies a sort of liminal space, not just one of mood, but one between the verbal and the adjectival, between the fist-pumping feel-good aspirations of EDM™ and the razor’s edge of Naples’s lo-fi forebears.

Feel and good are signals, two of several you’re supposed to register when you listen to a particular brand of popular music, especially of dance. These feelings are central to the genre’s drama. Naples’s work, on the other hand, is steeped in a sort of moral and aesthetic ambiguity. Through sonic subversion, Smacks attempts to liquidate house music’s dominant text: a track like “Zitronen” is so dense compositionally — a property uncharacteristic of classic house — such that it complicates a precise taxonomy and reading of the subject. Recorded mostly outside of his former base of New York — Naples moved to Berlin this past year — this is clearly music made by an individual uncomfortable with his perceived relegation to the nightclub DJ set.

As for enjoying the music: it sounds good as ever. If Body Pills was intended to evoke the experience of being alone on the New York Subway, Smacks is the sound of a stranger illicitly ripping a tight box mod on the Orange Line to New Carrollton. It is a subwoofer submerged in gelatin. It is the accusatory belch and mean-mug of the abyss. But it’s also Pandora’s residual elpis. It uplifts: the unmistakable torrent of 808 handclaps marking the arrival of “Zitronen” is sublime. Meanwhile, the “tribal” touches of “Bonobo” and the title track are familiar, reassuring masterstrokes.

Distinct enough to stand on its own, but not necessarily produced at an arm’s length, Smacks is an album that could have only been made this decade. It is keenly self-aware, but not cloyingly so; it’s unsure of its place in the sonic universe. Expansive within a cloistered acoustic space, it feels lonely: an echo in a cave. It describes a sort of diffraction, a conflict of interest. This is dance music that aims to transcend, but wisely avoids condescension. This is club music to be played outside the club. Smacks scans like a spontaneous answer to a scripted question. On the other hand, body heat and noise have to respond to something.

Links: Anthony Naples - Proibito

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