Available on: Dial
In the dark of the club, the most important thing isn’t the name of the DJ or deepness of the bass weight. No, the most important thing is the mood, the atmosphere. That overwhelming space that you can lose yourself in. On Glass Eights, John Roberts is tuned into this atmosphere with an impeccable suite of music that owes as much to house music as it does to musique concrète. Much of the uniqueness to Roberts’ take on house can be owed to the equipment used, a revolving battery of vintage synths and drum machines and atypical dance music instruments like violins and xylophones. There is an elegiac sophistication to the album that is soul affecting as well as being body moving.
The steady thump of ‘Lesser’ opens Glass Eights and sets the pace for the next hour. A gently plinking melody comes in and out while swirling synths cascade in different directions, almost as if stretched over a subwoofer that pushes them around. Over all of this is the tell-tale sonic detritus of aged machines, not unlike the coating that Burial gives his compositions, which serves to give this music a timeless nostalgia. Backwards strings and pianos provide a hypnotic plateau on ‘Navy Blue’, the bubbling house beat a lovely counterpoint to this experimental instrumentation. On these and many of the other songs, there is a marked contrast in temperature, with the melodies feeling glacial and cool, and the beats filled with a warm hum.
For all the stately cantering of some of the ten songs here, Roberts kicks into high gear with ‘Porcelain’, a song almost bereft of moody chords. A galloping beat kicks with ferocious intensity below the squiggly synth flourishes and menacing bass stabs. With a similar penchant for a quicker pace, ‘August’ displays a grander scope, with a healthy melodic breakdown and cracking snare keeping time.
Glass Eights goes so far beyond just deep house that it approaches its own paradigm at times. Take the elegant baroqueness of ‘Interlude (Telephone)’, the swinging breakbeats of ‘Pruned’, or the gorgeous penultimate piano piece ‘Went’. On ‘Interlude’, the xylophone-chimes that are brushed to and fro unfold into a minimal piano piece for the first half. The second half is dominated by low register strings and over-bassy beats.
While the final track of Glass Eights is the stomping title track, ‘Went’ is possibly the true crescendo of the album. A miniature concerto, the movements of this piano piece are portentous and full of emotion. As the keys double-up and begin to weave in with mournful synths, it’s hard to not stop and concentrate on the intricacy of the composition. By the time, the ivories twinkle out and ‘Glass Eight’ brings forth its wailing bass melody and rigid thump, John Roberts has guided you through a complete and masterful dissection of the places that modern dance music can go.