I am extremely picky about buying new dance music. My collection has been growing for nearly two decades, and the fact is that I simply don’t need the newest, hottest record that everyone is excited about—unless it does something that gives it a deserving place next to the amazing music I’ve already spent my time and money on. I look for music that reflects the idiosyncratic nature of the person who made it, which easily cuts out the vast majority of sound-alike tunes, edits and DJ tool tracks that seem to make up most of the sets I hear when I go out to dance.
Detroit native Kyle Hall has been making dance music for a relatively short time, but since the beginning he’s had a distinctive style that forced me to check all his releases. I’ve loved and played tracks from all through his discography to date, including his more recent rough and minimal jams. But my favorite strain is when he combines the funky rhythms of J Dilla or Jneiro Jarel with the lush synths of Hanna or Dego, like on his EP for Moods & Grooves or the early Wild Oats records. Not only does his latest album, From Joy, feature music in that style and from that era— it’s also probably the best example of this side of his catalog so far.
The jazzy atmosphere that pervades throughout is due to the loose, improvisational feel of the rhythms and melodies, as opposed to so many elevator music approaches to jazz pretense that seem all too common in house music. There is no doubt that this is very personal music, not pastiche. This is where the success of From Joy is most apparent. Unlike his debut album The Boat Party, which was clearly very DJ-friendly, this album cares little about easily fitting into any stylistic box or any DJ set. It will definitely do damage when played by an accomplished selector, but it works as a listening album just as well. Combined with the extravagant 3xLP pressing and hand-painted cover artwork depicting Kyle’s head floating above his body, the result is an album that feels complete and mature beyond what most dance music artists are doing. I can easily see this being a record I come back to again and again because it has already entered my driving rotation, which includes many longtime favorites.
Listening to this album reinforces my belief that there is an approach to dance music that leads to more rewarding musical experiences than most artists are taking. Knowing history and how to play instruments is never going to be a hindrance to making quality music, even though the current critical milieu doesn’t seem to agree; they are more enthralled by “outsiders” making noise while wishing this was the punk scene instead of dance music. This album is the exact opposite of that ideal. From Joy is made by a cat who has not used his youth and inexperience as a crutch at any point. He has done an excellent job of taking in the so-called “conservative” roots of dance music in funk, soul and jazz and has put his own fresh spin on them.
While this seems like a simple formula, it turns out that it must not be, which assertion is based entirely on the results of most artists out there, including many that have had much more time logged in the game. In fact, I hate to even make a point of Kyle’s age because his music has moved beyond that mattering at all. I must bring it up only because he is proof that there is no need for reduced expectations for younger artists. I hold him to the same standard that I hold artists who have been making music for longer than he has been alive, yet he has no problem making timeless, beautiful music that needs no additional qualifications. There are not many dance music artists out there who could make an album like this. Go buy the record.
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