As the legendary phrase goes, ‘up here for thinking, down there for dancing’. It’s rare to find a dance act that combines the two. No-one wants to think while shaking their booty, do they? X-Press 2 don’t claim to be a highbrow dance act stroking their theses on love, life and the universe on the dancefloor, but they aren’t mindless bandwagon-hoppers waving the ‘flavour-of-the-month’ stick to please the gurning punters either.
Having set up shop some 25 years ago, their first proper album release was 2002’s Muzikizum, which bore their ‘millstone’ David Byrne fronted hit Lazy. They know their strengths and haven’t deviated from the shuffling house blueprint too far since.
There’s no doubting the respect which DJ Diesel (Darren House) and DJ Rocky (Darren Rock) are held in the dance community and can lay claim to being the grandaddies of house music soundtracking the clubbing movement, but are they still relevant in the age of declining old school acts and the emergence of genre-hopping bedroom dance embryos?
As with all of X-Press 2’s previous works, the strength on The House Of X-Press 2 lies in the standard of the guest vocalists chosen to accompany them, with Byrne leading the initial salvo, followed by Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner and The Polyphonic Spree’s Tim DeLaughter on 2006’s Makeshift Feelgood setting the bar pretty high. This Is War sets the tone here, with new singer Doll (from Doll & The Kicks) doing her best Karen O spookisms. Similarly obscure are the vocals of Rob Harvey (from The Music – remember them?), who appears on The Blast, a track which never really ignites into anything beyond a moody space shuffle.
Titles alone give the impression of an ‘all-guns-blazing’ approach, but the reality is a little more peaceful. Lending some horizontal vocals from James Yuill to the sprightly Time makes it pass inoffensively, but doesn’t cause it to be remembered. Dance diva of yore Alison Limerick puts in a soulful warble on In The Blood, but can’t prevent it sounding like it could have beamed in from the late ’90s. From the same era as themselves house music veteran Roland Clark lends his vocals to two tracks; the shaky, snaky Let Love Decide and the whispered menace of Million Miles Away, both of which are house music personified, with shuffling bass grooves, clipped keyboards, skittering percussion and topped by a soulful vocal.
Oddly, the tracks that work best are the instrumentals, for not being shackled to a guest performer; Get On You is dark slice of dirty house that has layers and an atmosphere of menace in its relentless groove. Similarly, Dark Matar shuffles on a bed of clattering drums, bubbling bass and a vocal cut-up that peaks and falls in all the right places. They keep the best ‘til last with Playmates At The Supermarket, featuring Analog People In A Digital World, which sounds in parts like Audio Bullies meeting a slab of ’80s electro for a dancefloor dust-up of dubbed-up beats.
So, how does the third album offering from X-Press 2 fare in the harsh light of 2012? Sticking to ‘no frills epic bangers’ (from their press release) format could lay them open to accusations of being ‘lazy’. But there are flashes of wickedness in the production duties of Analog People In A Digital World and Tim Deluxe, and in the strength of the instrumental tracks. No real alarms or surprises here, but there’s enough good stuff to keep the faithful dancing, and that’s all they want to do. Brain off, feet on, let’s boogie.