Spectral Sound, Vol. 1
onceived shortly after its broader-ranging parent label, Ghostly International, in 1999, Spectral Sound has specialized in the Motor City area’s best homegrown produce of the last 20 years: techno. This two-disc compendium, the imprint’s 25th catalog release, celebrates more or less a half-decade of DJ-ready tech-house singles. Amidst the plethora of quality 12-inches, a mere three full lengths have surfaced, two of which cast their respective author (Matthew Dear) into quasi-celebrity status. Given his Berlin click house orientation and an apparent lack of a singing voice, one might ponder exactly how this individual managed to become the press icon he is today. I’ve certainly wondered such things, especially after hearing such first-rate tracks on Spectral Sound, Vol. 1, most of which are by decidedly lesser-known producers. With that in mind, it’s encouraging to think of the excellent solo full lengths that may one day surface on Spectral. Until then, we’ll have this gem to keep us occupied, and it’ll surely do the trick for the time being.
Spectral Sound’s first disc features thirteen tracks altogether, six of which are previously vinyl only and the rest of which are exclusive to this collection. While the first disc alone would suffice for many, it’s the second disc that makes it all a truly worthwhile package: a 33-track, 58-minute mixed set encompassing a very large component of the entire Spectral catalog mixed by Spectral’s in-house beatmatcher Ryan Elliott. The songs are faultlessly blended, making for a pleasing and non-clumsy listening experience on or off the dancefloor.
Both discs show the Ann Arbor-based label’s infatuation with, and dedication to, Detroit. Even within the first disc’s first few seconds, the album oozes its local expanse of Southeast Michigan. Osborne’s “‘Bout Ready to Jak” kicks off the compilation with a crude, dirty bassline, a looped vocal sample and a simple four-on-the-floor house pulse. Nothing too impressive, but it will surely slake the craving for some first generation Detroit-inspired techno. Several other tracks on the album unashamedly hark back to the early days of Juan Atkins and Derrick May. In particular, Håkan Lidbo provides the well-paced, electro-soul number “Tic-Tac Tactic” under his Vanisher alias, recalling a clever happy medium between Chicago and Detroit tech-house.
Not surprisingly, the selections more detached from the Detroit paradigm tend to be the ones by European producers (excluding the abovementioned track by Håkan Lidbo). Reinhard Voigt’s reinterpretation of James T. Cotton’s “Buck!” sounds slightly more click leaning than the compilation’s majority, while Isolée’s rehash of Osborne’s “Daylight” delves more into tame, danceable IDM terrains. Spectral’s star artist Matthew Dear also sticks out a bit on Spectral Sound, as his work seems much more grounded in the current stylings of Berlin than in the glory days of Motor City. It lacks the mechanical, yet somehow soulful thump and drive of his hometown contemporaries. Dear’s exclusive selection, “Juice,” sounds more like a Soft Pink Truth outtake than a proper Detroit homage. Luckily, he steps up the pace with the also-exclusive “Raw Dog,” recorded under his less pop-oriented Audion pseudonym.
Aside from a few sore thumbs, Spectral Sound accurately showcases the legacy of its label and will likely hold up as one of the better sampler compilations of 2005.