Thursday, March 15, 2007

Busman's Holiday

Club music songs are very much like Marimekko fabrics - a few elegantly simple design ideas in sort of modular pieces that can be reliably recombined and usually work out, as long as you're not expecting anything other than what they are.

Pulling a mid-90s UK house 12" named "I Believe" by an ensemble called the Happy Clappers out of the "to be listened" pile pretty much guaranteed a certain kind of listening experience, with the only variable being whether it would actually be good or not (it proved to be pretty good).

Were there any doubt that this was to be a well-crafted specimen of its time and place (and not much more), a glance at shows that they had two hits, "I Believe" and "Hold On," which they rereleased in endless 12" vinyl and CD configurations and then recycled them through a series of compilations, most containing the word "Ibiza" in the title.

The lyrical phrases "I believe" (sometimes punctuated with "in love") and "comin' to ya" alternate over a 4/4 kick drum, some congas, the standard slightly gospel-inflected three-chord piano vamp and some synthesized strings, and, of course, hand claps.

None of this explains why these records are sometimes convincing and often not - the precise tension and release structure (where the kick drum drops out for a bit, the piano chords pause or accelerate and so on) is not obviously quantifiable. For that matter why is "If You Should Need A Friend" by Fire Island (hmm, who are they appealing to?) better, or in what ways is it better?

For one thing the piano part has four chords and more chromatic motion between them and there are synthetic horn blats in place of the strings. The lyrics, although banal, attempt to be about something rather than just generic feel-good dance floor hollers and singer Mark Anthoni injects a little gritty expressiveness. At the opening, before the lyrics start, he takes a simple two-note wordless melodic fillip and jumps back and forth between his falsetto head voice and high tenor register to very good effect.

The record label, by the way, is Junior Boy's Own which I've found to be pretty reliable - I'll have to see what else is kicking around here on their imprint - in the meantime, should you (for example) find several hundred in a dumpster, give them a listen!

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