Classixx’s debut, Hanging Gardens, landed with a sizeable splash a few summers ago thanks in part to the wise deployment of unmistakable electronic darling of LCD Soundsystem and The Juan Maclean fame Nancy Whang on the suitably instant classic All You’re Waiting For. Three years on and it’s still a cool tonic for hot days, but that coolness doesn’t come at the cost of making the music seem cold or distant. That’s become Classixx brand, to a degree: cool but not too cool for you, top shelf but inclusive. If their sun-dappled melodies sometimes emulate the high life, it’s one that we can all afford to enjoy.
So though the exact combination may surprise, at its core the duo of Classixx and How To Dress Well’s Tom Krell on the lead single from their second album is one of those rare treasures, both unexpected and completely necessary. Ladlefuls of style with heart-growing substance, Just Let Go takes all that was great about Krell’s What Is This Heart (the outpourings of emotion bursting from a serene scene like a geyser) and slaps all manner of danceable bells and whistles on top. Krell wears dance diva well and Classixx push it into the stratosphere, and the song doesn’t diminish either act because its lyricism and anthemic danceability speak a universal language that neither has to translate.
To usher new album Faraway Reach into the frame in this manner was a canny decision, because it represents the album’s dizzying heights as well as its underlying ideals (even if other songs don’t transform like a magical girl quite as this one does). The title reference’s Brian Eno’s Some Faraway Beach – “given the chance I’ll die like a baby on some faraway beach” – and that maudlin metaphysical dream of a lush release on foreign shores is something of a launchpad for Classixx’s jet-setting party of high emotion.
As with the inclusion of Krell, the rest of Faraway Reach’s line-up similarly blurs the line between the oddball, leftfield choices and the “of course, why hadn’t this happened already” choices. From blockbuster acts like the always glorious T-Pain to hidden gems like Harriet Brown, each guest is a vital mouthpiece for the project. That’s not to say Classixx don’t produce evocative instrumentals that speak for themselves, but their guests signify their ongoing move from reliable remixers to able originators overseeing a growing court of collaborators.
Thankfully, the appointment of these collaborators is rarely foolish and frequently results in the kind of charm that oozed from Hanging Gardens’ standouts. T-Pain’s appearance on Whatever I Want could have hinged upon your tolerance for his signature processed vocals, but Classixx give the track an electronic lilt that’s refreshing and mirth-giving even in a year where audiences face an onslaught of mediocre tropical house. Conversely, some vocalists shift things further away from Classixx’s shores than others, and while I Feel Numb is unmistakably theirs, Alex Frankel’s voice seemingly compels the duo into an impression of Holy Ghost that’s a little disappointing – it’s a fine song, but it lacks the vibrant spark of inspiration that the album’s choicest moments ignite.
This is the notable problem with Faraway Reach, as the bright, addictive flavours of the best songs on the menu vastly outshine the more subdued efforts, a true disservice to some moments of outstandingly chill moroseness. Flip-flopping between dizzying heights and subdued placidity is a striking juxtaposition that can flatten the fizz. But with perseverance, there’s much to enjoy thanks to the diverse collaborators and the explorative, roving nature of the project. Highlight Ndivile, for example, sees Cape Town’s Nonku on strong form, and her stellar turn is the clearest indication of the album’s global scope. That’s key to appreciating a record whose intimate nature might suggest an inward-facing isolationist bent but whose reality is inclusive free movement between its cast’s inner worlds and the blue-green world we live on.