The gap between an artist album and a stitched-together collection of singles is widening. The struggle to shift from 12" triumphs to a coherent LP has plagued many an artist, and with electronic music moving forward, conjuring up an album effort with the content that the format demands remains an important challenge. So how does 'Step' fare?
Percolating bleeps and some tidy jackin’ beats on 'The Punchline in C++/Those were the Days' are as good a way as any to start: journeyman tech house with very nice touches that sets the mood for what’s to come.
'Month 2 Month' pays homage to Detroit, but also tells the story of the struggle of producing techno in the USA, where all that glitters is not gold. This is a fairly profound piece of work with Samuel, in contrast to his usual sprightly pace, moving into broken beats to slow things down. 'Power Ballad' is another epic beauty, moving away from 4/4 but propelling us onwards, while 'You Will Never Know' has a more timeless feel, reaching back to Samuel’s melodic techouse vogue – not too unlike his ‘Bork’ track.
There's depth and meaning in many places on ‘Step’: 'The Cave' and 'Just Try' (my personal favourite) are pure electronic tones untainted by modern complication. Yes, the lack of grit and edge might bring complaints that this is armchair techno for late night loafers, but Samuel appears set on his own course away from murky, club-infested waters. In recent times tracks like ‘Gonadotrpin’ and ‘Middlepoint’ proved Samuel knows a dark groove or two, but ‘Step’ is an album where he breathes life into his songwriting and shows a softer side.
'Off the Mark' is a step forward, with a trademark Samuel bassline that finishes with the sublime refrain of 'I think they are trying to say something'. Samuel has mentioned he tried to take his melodies as far as he could on this album and this last track is proof of success: the melody evolves over nine minutes, never repeating itself.
An album in every sense of the word, the tracks are unmixed but sequenced in a manner to suit the listener; there's no over-indulgence in dull minimal soundscape or excessively drum-led tracks - warm melodies and intriguing rhythms abound. I got flashbacks to early deep stuff from Dave Angel when I heard 'Step': Samuel has tightened up his production with strings, songlike hooks and some bumpy bass action to provide a quality end result.
I enjoyed this album, a refreshing break from dancefloor driven insanity. If you're the kind of person who prefers a CD which can be listened to as opposed to something that pounds out of your speakers, ‘Step’ might be for you. An aptly titled journey, this release definitely steps Jeff up to another level and I think it will have many people talking about it for some time.