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John Roberts - Glass Eights

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Artist: John Roberts

Album: Glass Eights

Label: Dial

Review date: Nov. 19, 2010

At a moment when the warp and hiss of a spent cassette or the peptic sizzle of a lossy electronic file is the favored trope for many on the dance music vanguard, it’s the crinkle of weathered vinyl that permeates John Roberts’ debut album. Perhaps not since Pole’s blue-to-red double-header from 1999 have phonograph creaks and pops been so gainfully employed. The creased fizz lends some solidity, a grainy lining, to Glass Eights, a record suffused by gases and smoke. Like many long-players from the downcast Dial Records imprint, Glass Eights sounds like it could have been laid to hard-drive in a cathedral’s nave. Roberts’ organic textures — clinks from a grand piano, malleted resonances, plucked double bass notes — swirl in domed air like incense and dust. The turntable crackle brings it back to earth, as the slow turn of the heavens is echoed in the spinning, concentric black disc.

Roberts spreads the grain rather thickly on “Lesser.” Heady with geysers of steam, feedback shards and hazy pulses, it’s a fitting opener, introducing Roberts’ able equilibrium of atmospheric stasis and seismic activity. But despite its elegant moodiness and midnight shadings, Glass Eights is never sluggish. Roberts’ beats are as tightly latched as their release is spry. There’s always movement in the murk. Roberts delves into deep house; the tick-tocking “Ever or Not,” awash in vapors, chimes and Arctic dub flecks, moves at a clipped saunter. There’s even a touch of old-school futurism as Roberts shows his percussive chops while indulging in snappy vintage pads on ”Dedicated.” Equally propulsive in its patchwork rhythms, “Porcelain” has distorted Kalimba notes contrasting with a blurry, bright filigree. Most surprising might be the Karaoke Kalk wistfulness of “Interlude (Telephone),” a moment of bold tunefulness in a record whose melodies are fleeting and often hesitant. That is, unless we’re taking into account the flashes of sumptuous color in “August.” The track trots along briskly, unencumbered by the swells of ice and wind swirling in its wake.

The only timbre more pervasive than rustling vinyl on Glass Eights might be Roberts’ fragmentary piano phrases. With the assistance of Carson Chan, Roberts sews a webwork of gelid notes and crystalline flits on “Went,” the album’s relatively ambient track. Stripped to the irregular clicks of needle on grain and plinking piano strings, it proves that Roberts is a capable arranger at any scale, from something as pocket-sized as this track to the album’s comparatively fleshed-out bangers.

Best of all, Glass Eights is a grower. Repeated listens reveal different rhythmic interplays, further horizons of ethereal activity, new harmonic contrails. And if listened to on actual vinyl, over time more layers of crackle will cake the grooves.

By Bernardo Rondeau

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