he title of Karl Blau’s fourth album, and first on Marriage, puts pressure on even before the disc is inserted, and the eventual reaction is an infinite double-take: “This will be lo-fi dance music. No, this is not lo-fi dance music. Yes, it is.” It’s not, or at least, it reverts to a much older, dare I say classier, set of traditions.
Dance Positive begins either in nowhere or West Africa, with a quick intro of homemade drums and vocals dropped out of an relatively unpopulated, sunny, and quaint atmosphere. The sound of this song, and most of the album, has all the crackling, pleasurable muffles of a long player and just as much reverence to the past. There’s the occasional strain in Blau’s tinny speaker-blowing refrain of “Are You Done?” but otherwise, it’s a joyful premonition. While the title is glaringly ironic, it’s also a clever way to start an album—clever because the song is just good, whispering so many contextual cues as to end up an accidental artifact of a dozen colors and moods, recorded on one of the most delightfully shitty setups of this exceedingly decked-out century.
When Blau commands “Don’t stop the ride when I get off” on “Put Me Back,” we’ve arrived at the dance element: early-80s fun on the synthesizer joined to Bobby McFerrin-ish “ooh-ooh” touches and a confusing, hollow melody. The song eventually works, meandering organically and letting the stupid synth melody fade and Blau’s excellent percussion take over. As much indebted to island as he is Bill Withers, Blau’s delightful “Megadose (Heavy Club Remix)” is, tongue firmly in cheek, nothing of the sort: flirtatious brass skirts around the makeshift marching band, which in most cases steals the show, dancing along without much care for the other parts. Simple, closely woven Blau-on-Blau harmonies decorate the beat, but the beat is the main act—bearing in mind this is also an assumedly intentional engineering choice that ups the volume of the drums on every song.
Funk sampling and mimicking on “Kill the Messenger” only add to the value of his low-budget nostalgia. The foundation of his sound, in this case, was set in stone some 30 years ago, and while Blau suggests “You hate my style,” his “style” is more or less full-grown and evolved, at worst affecting, and at best pretty sexy. It’s easy to suggest that Blau’s very basic setup, with glittery guitar or keys here and there, only benefits his imagination, his love of predominantly black musical traditions oozing with such enthusiasm that it’s hard not to enjoy them.
“SKY,” like many of these songs, is a little ditty fettered with accordion and possibly tin-can drum work, but made addictive by a great melody, and draws us closer by temptation, sashaying around our ears rather than infecting them. “What’s Not to Fall in Love With” is less successful, with kooky Beck flavors that aren’t nearly as illustrative as pretty much every other song. Blau ties the knot with “Take You for Granted,” which does have that multi-instrumental bejeweled quality of Beck’s “Milk & Honey,” but with the muted luster of a real piano, a perfect signature to this rough-hewn, impressionistic tribute to yore. Who needs drum machines when you have hands to drum with?