Ross from Friends Family Portrait

[Brainfeeder; 2018]

Styles: dance, house
Others: Simpsonwave, Com Truise, lo-fi hip hop beats to study/relax to

Sometime in the last couple years, Felix Weatherall became the beneficiary of an increasingly prominent trope in the 21st-century music industry: a viral internet hit by way of YouTube’s “Recommended” column. Much in the same way Boy Pablo and Clairo struck it big with their runaway singles “Everytime” and “Pretty Girl,” respectively, the English producer gained an uptick in fans and followers through the site’s algorithmically-tested method of artist exposure. The song was called “Talk to Me You’ll Understand,” and it showed the internet Weatherall’s knack for penning engaging (if divisive) lo-fi, semi-ironic dance tunes. Operating under the annoyingly arch stage name Ross from Friends, Weatherall found himself party to the growing trend of pointedly unpolished, internet-centric electronic music that’s taken hold of social media’s more experimental corners of late.

Earlier this month, Weatherall released the video for “Pale Blue Dot,” which features an edited version of a 1990 video travelogue taken by his mother, depicting her exploits as she mingles with the rogues’ gallery of desultory English house music enthusiasts, of which Felix’s father was a member. (This trans-European sojourn served as the impetus for the couple’s relationship). And so for much of Family Portrait, Weatherall’s latest release under the name Ross from Friends, the London-based DJ reckons with matters of nostalgia and artistic authenticity — two issues that were bound to arise, given that his big break came via a democratized video-sharing platform and that his very existence springs from the chance encounter of two wayward techno-heads in the 90s — while often overcoming both, yet never entirely vanquishing either.

As a member of this new wave of musicians whose career is predicated on the wide-reaching breadth of the internet, Whitehall is keenly aware of his own ephemerality. So as a reaction against the transitory nature of YouTube’s one-hit wonder algorithm, Portrait opts for long-burning tracks, songs that refuse to cater to the picayune attention span of a generation molded by the bygone Vine and the indomitable five-second unskippable video advertisement. Songs like “Parallel Sequence” and “Project Cybersyn” both run beyond the five-minute mark, yet neither overstay their welcome. The former makes invaluable use of crucially-timed breaks, amphetamine-jitter drums, and wistfully familiar synth lines; the latter is a triumph of inspired pacing and meticulous dynamics.

Like “Pale Blue Dot’s” home movie aesthetic, a family portrait is a curious staple of the nuclear family; as a snapshot of domestic harmony, its placidity belies the ugly reality of many family dynamics. Forced smiles betray the animus of its hormone-addled teenage subjects. Artificial backdrops and a tasteful, safe dress attire help to smooth over cracks in the façade. Patriarchal authority is often implied, however inaccurately. Ross is aware of this bifurcation; his use of outdated keyboard sounds tends to signify a doleful feeling rather than a nostalgic one. The title track, for example, employs a snail’s pace tempo and static-y atmosphere to conjure a feeling of reminiscent malaise. It’s like looking back on your childhood and realizing how little your household resembled a Hallmark card. While Ross from Friends explores an incredibly specific theme, that of a misremembered personal past, he does so with a keen ear for detail and an unparalleled facility for sonic layering.

For listeners who don’t care to give Family Portrait its due attention, the album will sound like a collection of headphone bangers: music to check your email to, but nothing worth getting excited about. This is partly Weatherall’s own fault, as eight of the twelve tracks here surpass a four-minute run time and few would sound as good on a dancefloor as they do on a laptop. So to ask the audience to remain patient for the record’s 55 minutes proves a tall order, especially for music as subdued as this. Still, Weatherall demonstrates an indisputable talent for compiling and arranging a diverse array of sounds into one cohesive song on Family Portrait, and his recent signing to Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label only serves to reaffirm this truth. In a landscape where kinda-ironically named musicians like DJ Seinfeld and Red Foreman & The Acid Flashback at Nightmare Beach are beginning to prosper (or at the very least, exist unquestioned), that Ross from Friends can emerge as a major voice in his genre speaks volumes to the prodigious musical talent he displays here on Portrait. And until a musician by the name of MC Larry Sanders emerges and quietly outdoes all of these other 90s-themed reactionaries, I’ll be happy keeping “The Knife” in a light-to-moderate rotation.

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