Within the context of Detroit’s storied house and techno lineage, which has spawned countless greats from Theo Parrish and Moodymann to Omar S and Carl Craig, critics and fans are always eager to find the city’s next great; to predict who will continue Motor City’s soulful legacy. Of the contenders, few are discussed more than Kyle Hall, a Detroit native who cultivated his smoky brand of house from an unfeasibly young age on the Third Ear, FXHE and Hyperdub imprints.
In those earlier works, smooth as they undoubtedly were, there was a hint of something more abstract and raw, a concern that Hall returns to on his debut album following almost three years without a solo release to his name. The resulting LP, The Boat Party, is a wild trip through house and techno tropes which leans heavily on distortion and compression, as Hall races through genres and tempos with confidence; spontaneous and consistently unpredictable.
The shift in sound is most marked in Hall’s move away from melody towards intricate and impressively physical rhythmic experiments. After the soothing sketch of KIXCLAP$CHORD$NHATS eases the listener in with its burbling synthlines, Hall begins to hone in on the percussion. Dr Crunch is anchored by a bloated kick, accompanied by a filter-heavy melodic sample that distorts and twists, tracing mind-bending shapes with its busy high-end and even revealing its source in a fleeting moment just after the third minute mark. Spoof continues the percussive exploration, as a skittering array of snares and hats lead over shards of coruscated melody which float thinly above the track’s surface.
Hall’s ability to distort and strip down his sounds while still retaining vestiges of soul continue to impress on highlights Flemmenup and Finnapop. On the former, tinny drum rolls and taut bass notes are twinned with a stuttering vocal which suits the agitated percussive field, at once restrained and bristling with coiled energy. On Finnapop Hall goes a step further, ruthlessly ramping up the BPM and referencing ghetto tech in a track which pairs an endlessly looped vocal with a spare drum pattern. Despite the strict beat patterns these tracks are never brittle; instead there’s a limber energy to his sound which is unmistakable, a spontaneity evident in the sudden breakdown of Finnapop in its closing minutes, as the loops degrade before your ears to startling effect.
Yet Hall has not entirely abandoned the golden, soul-sampling grooves which marked the beginning of his career on tracks like the irresistible Down! Indeed, Crushed is The Boat Party’s softest and most emotive moment, where a straight kick and hi-hats surge forth under aqueous, filtered sample-work. The apparent lightness of touch found here can also be seen in the sense of humour that Hall brings to his work, gleefully appropriating and distorting classic samples, or posing incongruously on the cover of an album called ‘The Boat Party’ on a frozen Michigan lake without another person in sight.
Despite the album’s seemingly improvised nature and structure, placing the stunning Measure 2 Measure as the LP’s finale was certainly a deliberate choice. Here Hall’s aesthetic and this album’s successes are neatly summed up – it’s an unabashed party tune, where Hall takes a pair of classic samples and snakes them around a rugged drum pattern. Yet even here the kernel of discord is present – the kick starts and stops in an uneasy staccato lope, while the filtered vocals sound somewhat uncertain, sometimes looped over each other out of sync, sometimes distended for slightly too long. The track stands as a testament to Hall’s ability to marry the soulful and the distorted, embracing the warm possibilities of machine music while showing a keen awareness of the corrosive effect that digital production can have on music’s innate humanity. It reflects the album as a whole: the music on The Boat Party is in equal parts dissonant and soulful, an impressively unpredictable piece whose brilliant ideas and sounds are fortified by Hall’s confident and intuitive grasp over his craft.