“One of the lies that we tell ourselves is that we’re making progress.” That’s a quote from black activist H. Rap Brown, whose voice echoes throughout “Chumps,” where solemn pads hang so thick in the air that it’s easy to forget the beat underneath. Will Long’s first release for Comatonse, a three-part trilogy called Long Trax, is a requiem for change, mourning missed opportunities by returning to familiar ideas.
According to the label, run by Terre Thaemlitz, Long Trax“examines that pack of lies dubbed ‘change’ from the sweaty dance floor.” Appropriately for a record of that disposition, Long sticks to the basics: drum machines, synths and vocal samples. It’s subtle house music that often sounds more funereal than celebratory, a faint shadow of the spirit the genre often represents.
Long, who lives in Tokyo, is better known as the ambient producer Celer. That explains at least part of his approach to house music, which is slow and patient. It sounds like Thaemlitz is an influence, too. You could easily mistake the wounded rhythms and weary vocals of “Time Has Come” for DJ Sprinkles, who contributes “overdub” versions of every song.
Long Trax features seven of Long’s originals and seven Sprinkles overdubs. Long’s originals inhabit a lonely, forlorn world. The beats vary in speed and style, and drums are rarely the focal point. Voices bellow over endless expanses, while the synths sigh in resignation, layered like his ambient productions. More than an hour long, the first disc ofLong Trax is a meditative listen.
The overdubs ranges from tweaked versions to surprising overhauls. To the melancholy at the heart of “Time Has Come,” Thaemlitz adds one of her signature descending basslines, amplifying both its dour mood and its dance floor utility. She puts a sputtering breakbeat below “Under-Currents,” turning it from a moody murmur into something more hopeful. Her shades of optimism provide rich contrast to Long’s solemnity.
Thaemlitz is a fan of Long—she picked his Simultaneity as one of her favourite albums of this year—and she helps draw out his talent in house music that’s as engaging as his other work. His solemn grooves are universally poignant. It’s music you can take solace in, commiserate with, or find joy in. Long Trax bares itself with an emotional honesty that feels necessary—not just in the context of dance music’s social climate, but also at the end of an incredibly demoralizing year.
Will Long seemed to spring from nowhere when he released a trio of the year’s best house EPs – all of which are collected on Long Trax – without any fanfare. In fact he’s been active for years, producing billowing drones under a variety of monikers, the most acclaimed of which is Celer. His move into deep house territory is as apt as it is surprising, and is perfectly positioned on Terre Thaemlitz’s reliable Comatonse imprint. Thaemlitz even takes the time to add her own personal touches, as DJ Sprinkles, to each track, padding out Long’s euphoric, minimal compositions with her unmistakable square wave bass lines and clipped percussive elements. But it’s Long’s originals that have the biggest impact – while the DJ Sprinkles edits work perfectly in a club setting, his tracks are masterfully restrained, the incremental changes only making sense after repeat listens. It’s serious lights-down, eyes-shut material that recalls another era of deep house – nobody mention Disclosure.
Already in 2012 Will Long, also known as Celer, and Dirk Serries, also known as Vidna Obmana and Fear Falls Burning (to name a few of his projects) started exchanging some sound material, but it took a full year before Long even had an idea what to do with Serries’ guitar sounds. Long explains this on the press text, but me no understand what he did: “Using the original track that I sent Dirk at the very beginning as a sound source, I shaped it exactly like Dirk’s responding source file – the musical colour and frequencies were the same, but the effects and enveloping was triggered by the waves of Dirk’s track.[…] It may be hard to hear the two sides, but it’s really built
by the background curtain, and even if you can’t hear it’s place, it’s definitely there. Where does one thing begin and another end? Maybe you can hear it?” It may explain the title of the release though. Both of these two pieces work with Serries long sustaining guitar drones sounds, with slowly envelop, overlaid, I guess, with Celer’s own drones, perhaps created by a transformation or two of the original Serries input, but then more stretched out, adding more variations of the same colour to the whole. ‘Above/Below’ is the darker side of the moon here, while the second piece, not surprisingly called ‘Below/Above’, represents the lighter side of the coin. This is music that absolute weightless space stuff, transporting the listener through an endless black universe and the notes of Serries, especially on ‘Below/Above’ are like little stars at the firmament. Maybe I just wrote that because of the impending Christmas season? I have no idea; it is one of those beautiful shiny winter days and Celer and Dirk Serries provide the perfect soundtrack for such a day, in which everything seems to slow down.