© t thaemlitz/comatonse recordings
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In Sputnik Music, February 7 2009.
While the notion that music is a universality or a language shared by all has some support, it would be na夫e to argue that background and past experience do not shape a person's interpretation of music. As Terre Thaemlitz phrases it in the biting introduction to his album Midtown 120 Blues.
"So lets keep sight of the things you're trying to momentarily escape from, after all its that larger context that created the house movement that brought you here. House is not universal, house is hyper specific."
Released under the moniker DJ Sprinkles, Midtown 120 Blues reflects Thaemlitz's experiences in almost every aspect of its construction. The album presents an unabashed view of the commercialization of the New York house scene, and the mix of ambience, deep house and melancholy throughout the album embodies this disenchantment.
Looking at capitalism's negative effects on house music, Thaemlitz utilizes the music as a vehicle for protest. The album covers the difficulties faced by the communities Thaemlitz has seen and been a part of. Though many listeners may find it hard to relate personal experiences to Thaemlitz's transgender background, his conviction in Midtown 120 Blues produces some striking moments. Even when approaching the themes of the album with total unfamiliarity, the way songs like Ball'r (Madonna-Free Zone) embody such distinctive opinions is engrossing.
The message does not have to be heard and understood to enjoy the album, the supple landscapes are very welcoming, the steady minimal beats helping listeners drift with the music. The textures of songs like House Music is a Controllable Desire You Can Own have an ingrained warmth to them. Yet while welcoming to the listener, the song draws out a hidden sadness in its long piano patterns and soft bass lines. The jazzier Brenda's $20 Dilemma also considers its own melancholy, flutes quietly stepping out around the deep house rhythm. Thaemlitz uses vocal lines to the same effect in Sisters, I Don't Know What This World is Coming To, making his disenchantment clear in the repeated vocal line "Sisters I don't know what this world is coming to."
The sadness that has been imbued in the music reveals Midtown 120 Blues to be very much a vow of discontent with where house has gone, not a confrontational piece aimed at sparking change. Thaemlitz's approach can at times be analytical, yet never do the modulating deep house bass lines fail to convey the emotion driving him. The simple vocal lines in songs like Sisters, I Don't Know What This World is Coming To simply sharpen the context of the emotion to the listener.
Thaemlitz's Midtown 120 Blues does not overreach its bounds, Thaemlitz simply executes on the scathing criticisms of the intro. Taking his disenfranchisement with the house music scene, Thaemlitz explores this emotion throughout the album. Where other electronic artists fail in conveying emotion, Thaemlitz excels in expressing his blues in the album. And it is done so in a way that is mindful of the subjects he covers, and is very much representative of Thaemlitz himself. By no means grandiose, Midtown 120 Blues excels for the simple fact that it takes a part of Thaemlitz and expresses it consistently throughout all aspects of its construction.