John Barera & Will Martin Graceless
In a word, the debut long-player from Boston DJs/producers/roommates John Barera and Will Martin is […]
In a word, the debut long-player from Boston DJs/producers/roommates John Barera and Will Martin is solid. Over the course of the album’s eight tracks, there is simply nothing to object to. Essentially a collection of hardware-formed, soul-sampling house productions, one might assume that the record’s unblemished run is the result of Barera and Martin playing it safe, but that would be shortsighted. In truth, Graceless is effortlessly refreshing in its conceptual simplicity; these are tracks for tracks’ sake, and ones that again prove that a good sample, smart drum programming, and genuine musicality can still make for potent (and pleasantly uncomplicated) dancefloor music.
For a record appearing on a vinyl-only imprint helmed by a DJ with an increasingly cult following (for the uninitiated, Dolly is run by Panorama Bar resident Steffi), Graceless is a very accessible album; from the moment the opening title track’s gleaming electric piano chords hit, it’s hard to not be drawn in. To that end, Barera’s and Martin’s approach to house production is a pleasingly familiar one, with an emphasis placed on sample choice and a classic sense of “soul,” giving the record a welcoming air void of dancefloor pretension. At their core, the LP’s eight cuts are loop-driven affairs, and though they can revolve around a series of unwavering elements for minutes at a time, subtle keyboard flares, percussion fills (or drops), and unobtrusive synth and sample tweaks keep the tracks lively without distracting from each production’s immersive groove.
In many ways, Graceless‘ efforts can feel like loose and playful jams on the surface, but it seems unlikely that Barera and Martin would be able to stretch such simple sonic ingredients as far as they do without the use of premeditated structures, and it is really the strength of the LP’s arrangements (understated as they may be) that give the record its natural, even charming, feel. It doesn’t hurt that the pair also displays a knack for catchy basslines; considerably active in the lower ranges, Barera’s and Martin’s bass patterns jump around and between the kicks and snares, giving the tunes an energetic, but not overwhelming, push from below.
With all that said, it can still be hard to put a finger on what exactly makes Graceless work so well. The LP has its standouts, with “Graceless,” “It’s Alright,” “Freefall,” and “Afterthought” leaving some of the record’s strongest impressions. (“It’s Alright” in particular seems like a dancefloor no-brainer, with its endless percussion loops, retro guitar stabs, and Motown-style R&B vocal chops making it the record’s catchiest outing.) Still, a major key to the LP’s success is that the album never even comes close to feeling “overthought,” a trait that has continually bogged down full-lengths in the electronic realm. Here, Barera and Martin sound unconcerned with the intellectual underpinnings of their album, and instead simply sound like they are having fun exercising their musical whims while making house music using one of the genre’s most straightforward methods. The results are certainly hard to argue with.