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Maxmillion Dunbar, the man born Andrew Field-Pickering, is an avowed cratedigger and a rabid consumer of music. Whether he’s tearing a club down with an acid house dub or ploughing the nether regions of record store bins to unearth a long-buried jazz LP, he’s the sort that does it all for the simple joy of hearing good music. Every genre gets treated with equal respect in the mind of Max D, and it therefore doesn’t come as a surprise that the music that he has made throughout his career has been tricky to pin down. Whether he’s releasing solo records, acting as an MC for hip hop outfit Food For Animals, or making sample-centric beach disco as one half of Beautiful Swimmers, aligning himself with a particular genre has never been a priority.
On ‘House Of Woo’, the new Maxmillion Dunbar album for RVNG Intl., what Field-Pickering is interested in more than genre is vibe – as the opening track tells us, he’s a Slave To The Vibe. This is an important distinction to make, because whilst ‘House Of Woo’ might be hard to assign a genre to, its vibe keeps the record feeling coherent throughout. Slave To The Vibe opens the album with dreamy, new age synths that sound particularly synthetic, laying the LP’s sound palette out from the start. Scattered pieces of Roland percussion start to build on top of the ambient intro before a kickdrum enters the fray, giving the track a solid groove without ever sacrificing its inherent weirdness. This leads into Woo, a track that was previously released at the tail-end of last year. As a 12”, Woo didn’t really make much sense – diving headfirst into its lively chords, it wasn’t the most DJ-friendly cut, and its idiosyncrasies made it stick out like a sore thumb against more genre-specific fare. Taken in the context of the rest of the LP, though, it seems a perfect summation of Field-Pickering’s world, a world that shines bright with positive energy and pure, unadulterated exuberance.
“The separate elements might be corny – it’s fully new age, flutes and all – yet as a whole it’s emotive and expressive, both extremely joyful and indescribably melancholic.”
The sunshine continues on tracks like Peeling An Orange In One Piece, a kaleidoscope of colours that feels truly alive. The separate elements might be corny – it’s fully new age, flutes and all – yet as a whole it’s emotive and expressive, both extremely joyful and indescribably melancholic, and it’s downright beautiful. Meanwhile, The Figurine (Nod Mix) takes a silky R&B hook and rolls with it for four minutes, demonstrating Field-Pickering’s ability to wring sensation out of the most unlikely sources. Ice Room Graffiti starts off an eccentric house track, but about halfway through it drops its tempo to a crawl, and unlike when Lil’ Louis did the same on French Kiss, it doesn’t pick itself back up again. It’s a bold move, and one that demonstrates Dunbar’s aversion to playing things too conventionally, as well as his ease of switching energy levels on a whim.
It’s these changes in pace, the tracks that delve into the weirder, more exploratory areas, that form some of the album’s finest moments. Coins For The Canopy is one of the deeper cuts on the record, a dubby and percussive drum track that lacks anything in the way of a standard melody. The irregular shuffle that plays over it gets more garbled as the track continues. Loving The Drift follows a similar direction: a loose synth track that, true to its name, drifts along anchorless without a clear destination in mind. These tracks feel free of constraints, but are a considered enough to not quite fall into jam session territory – Kangaroo, for example, consists of wandering horns and snatches of reverb-soaked percussion, but the way that the synths escalate and the elements gradually pile on is as dense as a noise record.
Maxmillion Dunbar – Loving the Drift
The stylistic consistency of ‘House Of Woo’ and the disinterest in set genre was perhaps a product of Field-Pickering’s creative process. Recorded in his home between April and May last year, the result is an album where each and every track feels as if they come from the same place. It’s a snapshot of his world at that time, and that’s what makes the album so special – it’s entirely a world of its own.