Don Leisure and Earl Jeffers' earlier EPs melded British sounds into whip-cracking hip-hop shapes. 2010’s ’Stay Blazed’ crafted post-dubstep wonk to crispy beat-chops, and 2014’s ‘Brockwild’ sounded like something J Dilla might have made had he been brought up on dub and hardcore — its Godzilla percussion blissed out by hoover synths and cascading, warehouse bass.
But since signing to First Word Records, Darkhouse Family have travelled sonically much further towards the other side of the Atlantic, swapping synths and samples for live instrumentation, bass for jazz, funk and soul. Out with the kush, on with the fedoras. The results hit the ears with the deceiving smoothness of label-mate Tall Black Guy’s excellent 2016 LP ‘Let’s Take a Trip’ — its seamless production the spoonful of sugar to help the melodic and rhythmic richness go down. Both records demand attention only subtly, quietly boasting moments of beauty, microbial funkiness and taught jazzisms.
This is in no small part down to the record’s collaborative thrust, the duo taking to the booth to let the musicians shine. ‘Modaji Suite’ leans heavily on the quivering vibrato bassline of Andy Brown, teetering majestically into each bend like a coin spinning down a charity box. The vocals are no less integral: Vanity Jay weaving just as well among the slo-mo R&B of ‘Just So You Know’ as the pounding crashes of ‘Journey To Love’; Esther commanding the earth-soul of ‘Another World’; while Jessy Allen’s turns on ‘Radiate’ and ‘Space and Time’ seem to melt breathily into the woodwork — the latter track crescendoing into an otherworldly funk loop that threatens to bring the roof down. In particular, it’s the percussion that keeps the record spinning, Daf ‘Yung Stix’ tearing through propulsive breaks at one turn and shuffling through a low-swung groove the next.
If it all holds up, it’s because Jeffers & Leisure have a hell of an ear for melodic and rhythmic detail, making this team effort sound both auteurist and dynamically together — like Madlib’s ‘Shades of Blue’ if Blue Note’s players were actually there, saxing in and out of the studio during recording. This is musical union to a paranormal degree. As the introduction to the record prophesies: “We must begin to view our musical compositions as vessels through which concepts become conscious conversation, and our records repositories of positive energy”. How these Cardiff boys channelled the spirit of George Clinton will forever remain a mystery, but there’s no denying the electric symbiosis of this beat duo turned Welsh soul powerhouse.
Words: Callum McLean
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