By Greg Salter
Over the last twenty five years, house music has proven to be a malleable genre – from the Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk augmenting it with elements of rock, disco and anything else that would fit in the late ‘90s, to artists like Ricardo Villalobos or The Field pushing it into more minimal or ambient territory over the last ten years, dance musicians have constantly found ways to stretch, alter and re-shape the house music template.
L-Vis 1990, aka James Connolly, certainly seems to view himself as part of this lineage. Over the last four years or so, Connolly has made a name for himself, along with Bok Bok (Alex Sushon), through his Night Slugs club night and label. If you read what Sushon and Connolly say about Night Slugs and their approach to music in general, the closest definition you can pin down is that what they do is indefinable, at least in terms of genre. This is reflected in Connolly’s debut L-Vis 1990 album, Neon Dreams – while many of these tracks are rooted in house, they veer off in a myriad of directions as the album progresses.
The result, as you might expect, is a typically eclectic record – perfect for those willing to take the time to work through the 15 tracks on here, though initially a little intimidating and disorienting. Though the temptation may be to break Neon Dreams down and separate off its most immediately appealing moments, it actually feels like an album that needs to be heard in one sitting – exactly the kind of record you’d make if you were used to pacing this stuff in your DJ sets.
As ever, the problem with straying across so many genres, and having multiple guest vocalists, is unity. A little comparison might put things into perspective – while L-Vis 1990 doesn’t quite nail a signature sound like SBTRKT, he’s less likely to smooth away the raw energy of his influences. He certainly manages a more consistent set of tracks than Toddla T’s Watch Me Dance album, which couldn’t quite maintain its pop peaks throughout.
Not that Neon Dreams is without its own pop moments – ‘Forever You’ kicks off the record after a short intro, and marries house with the woozy synths of dubstep brilliantly before building breathlessly to a peak. ‘Play It Cool’, where guest vocalist Samantha Lim shines, sounds like Ford And Lopatin relocated to South London – Connolly in fact shares that duo’s fondness for vintage synths and drum machines, and the similarities suggest an interesting link between two pockets of underground music at the moment. ‘Lost In Love’, meanwhile, has great crossover potential, with its liquid bass, sax (!) and effortless vocals from Javeon McCarthy.
At times, L-Vis 1990’s debut can sound a little too indebted to his influences (‘Shy Light’ sounds like a Daft Punk tribute, admittedly a very good one) or a little aimless as the various tracks take some stitching together (something like ‘Illusions’ sounds like a mid-album placeholder). For the most part though Connolly handles the sheer breadth of genres and tempos on here with great skill, coating his tracks with washes of bright, colourful synth and nods to dubstep, hiphop, grime and R&B. For every moment of nostalgia there are moments of great inventiveness too – hinting that Connolly, as he processes all these influences and genres, might actually be heading somewhere new, rather than just looking back.