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LABEL: Spinnin' Records RELEASE DATE: November 25, 2016 GENRE: House
// review by SoyBomb

More one-dimensional.

For some artists, time stands still... Have you noticed that Def Leppard sounds pretty much the same as they did thirty years ago? Armand Van Helden seems to be that way as well, not really abandoning his dirty house sound from the mid-90s. After spending some time as half of the duo Duck Sauce for a few years, he has returned from the ashes with his first solo album in nine years with "Extra Dimensional".

Extra Dimensional kicks off with Eluv8, featuring Big Brooklyn Red. Entering with a spacy intro, a creepy youthful voice speaks a bit about music and weird alternate dimensions before the over-reverbed soulful voice of BBR rips into the foreground. Funky bass soon joins in, leading to a strange house/synthpop combination with softer synths and a classic house beat, which focuses more on its hi-hats than its kick. If you were looking for some unfiltered soul, you'll find it right here; Eluv8 hearkens back to an earlier and simpler time for house music, illustrating just the kind of ride you can expect from the album. Know Thyself busts in without even knocking with a loud "WAVE YO' HANDS!" sample before pianos and some additional crooning about loving yourself follows in. The instrumental is pure retro house music, though the extra thick bass makes the song a little bit deeper. The Bronx UFO, after a strange sci-fi introduction, throws some spooked/erotic Oohs and Ohhs our way before the main hook, a thunky bassline playing a slightly haunting tune, rears its way in. That diva screeching gets old quickly, and it never really goes away. Add in a cheap-sounding organ synth later on, and you have the recipe for Meh!

Oz Moses is obviously a take on both the act of osmosis and on two figures people worship religiously, Moses and puppeteer/voice actor Frank Oz. (Okay, not really.) Starting with a clip from a Southern sermon (for some reason), this track's main draw is a funky bass drawl taken directly from "Nervous Acid", a 1992 acid house tune by Bobby Konders. With some extra special effects thrown in for good measure (stark tempo changes and weird spatial sound effects), this one's a decent take on the source material, though it only goes so far to becoming its own beast.

Despite the monotony of its instrumental aspects, Spidey Sensei is actually rather listenable. After yet another corny and unrelated film audio clip at the start, the creepy vocals of Mary Louise "ML" Platt from punk/electro band Spalding Rockwell where "something's taking over [her] head" prove to be the primary reason to enjoy the track; they'll be stuck in your head for days. Armand does his best to throw some farty bass and marimba wonder in the background, but the simple, sultry vocals do it for me. Then, Eye Of The Mountain starts as all the other tracks do: with some pointless quote from someone we don't know. (Does every song have to start this way? Why?!) But a funky bouncy bass ripped into my eardrum afterward, leaving me with permanent scars, followed by some rather catchy disco samples of both a very uplifting choir and a diva apparently having a double-cheese chili burrito experience. Eye of the Mountain, despite the name having nothing to do with the song, is quite the refreshing left turn from the other tracks, resembling some of Daft Punk's earlier works. Certainly this one would be great for getting that office congo line going.

Statue of Liberty begins exactly as you expect... so I won't even mention that. Folksy guitar work slips in, oddly enough, though it doesn't last long in favour of more poppy house music as guest vocalist Xaxo gives a pretty generic performance as a divo. For a house track that could've very easily come from the house surge from the mid-2000s, here you go. This one doesn't stand out for me, but there is indeed some funk in here. Gno enters the scene with...opera...before switching gears completely to a single beat and a voice clip of someone saying "Gno" repeatedly. It turns out they're actually saying "no" and then list a group of things there shouldn't be any more of, like anger, borders, and shadows. (Not sure how he'll eliminate the last one. Might have to alter how light projection works — not an easy feat. A female "Yes" counterclip tries to undermine our "no" buddy, but it doesn't seem to work out in the end. All in all, this is one unusual strange song. It both stimulates the mind and defines what filler is in one fell swoop.

With the talent of "Zhao" and "Ant Lerock" in tow (who?), Sacred Geometry drifts back into smooth house territory, complete with some fine diva vocals, muffled disco chords, and more hi-hats than inside a drum factory. Also, there's rather effective use of the term "WHOO!" in this one. It's pretty catchy, though the disco pad may get a little irritating after a while. Meanwhile, Matter Doesn't Matter, again with the mysterious Zhao, involves a mixture of bumbling bass and a creepy roboticized voice, blended with weird vocal splicing at the same time. Matter Doesn't Matter is a bit of a crumbling mess in need of some harmonic organization.

We're nearing the end! Sky, featuring the ever-popular duo of Peter Winstead Jr. & Kimyon. (Okay, I had never heard of them prior.) Aside from the very deep bassline and clinking of faux marimbas, this one's not memorable at all. What you WILL remember, however, is Wings. Unlike the other tracks, Wings sounds surprisingly smooth and professionally done, as opposed to the generally dirty sound of Extra Dimensional. Sampling from the 1981 Ph.D hit, "I Won't Let You Down", this one's practically a sped-up version of the chorus and little else. In fact, aside from an extra few degrees of polish, that's pretty much what you get. Still, it's the catchiest tune on the album, even if it is a bit repetitive.

If you're looking for a collection of music from modern times, this isn't the album for you. Extra Dimensional is a throwback to old-school house and funk, similar to what he was doing nearly two decades earlier. Armand Van Helden is sticking to his roots, and you have to give some respect for that. This album is for old-school fans only! Although I found it to be a bit dry, it has its inspired moments that may be worth a spin.

I just wish he'd stop opening EVERY song with some random out-of-place sound bite from old speeches.

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