Maurice Fulton's Exhaustive, Exhilarating New Album as Syclops

blink-of-an-eye-album-cover_500Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.Right at the start of the new year, there appeared a 12” listing for “The Fall,” a single from a heretofore-unknown indie act Rhye. The studio project had carefully been building up buzz on the internet over the last quarter of 2012 due to a carefully manicured air of mystery. The music contained '80s R&B subtleness, glints of cocktail jazz, the silken surfaces that defined late-era Roxy Music, but the only photos accompanying the music of a woman’s bared torso photographed at enticing angles. Perez Hilton, Slate as well as music critics were stymied by that voice at the music’s center, seductive if indeterminable. It sounded as husky and feminine as Sade, but as more information came to light, it turned out Rhye was but the work of two men, Danish songwriter-producer Robin Hannibal and Michael Milosh, a Canadian songwriter whose voice so bewitched its listeners.

“The Fall” was an elegant update of Quiet Storm for the 21st century, but the flip was something else entirely, that same song put into the hands of one of dance music’s most inscrutable craftsman, Maurice Fulton. It’s that version that I can’t help but put on: seductive yet psychedelic, heady and deep but pheromone-triggering. In some strange way, it felt like I hadn’t heard a Fulton remix in a minute, even though last year, Fulton produced two full-lengths that were only available digitally on his BubbleTease Communications label: Mim Suleiman’s Swahili house album Umbeya and an album by former Freeform Five vocalist, Tamara Barnett-Herrin. And this month, he returned with A Blink of an Eye, an album he accredits to himself and three “suspicious” Finnish jazz musicians as the band Syclops.

There is precedent for a Maurice Fulton full-length to appear as the work of a group rather than one man: other aliases used include Noize Boyz and Eddie & the Eggs. So a grain of salt should be used in pondering the musical contributions made by Finns credited as Hanna “Nasty Girl” Sarkari, Jukka “Snow Blunt King” Kantonen, Sven “Babyface” Kortehisto, the Eggs to Fulton’s Eddie (who credits himself as “Da Butt Rubber”). There are times on Eye when so many spontaneous left-turns occur that –if you close your one eye and listen—sounds like the work of an oddly-attuned combo. How can so many crazy-ass sounds emanate from the mind of a lone Butt Rubber?

And there are moments that recall the pliant funk of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, others that are as echo-laden as the most austere Basic Channel tracks; some moments are as buggy as Mouse on Mars, others as deep as deep house can get. That they can all occur within a single track is the gift of Fulton. While based in Sheffield, Fulton’s roots stretch all the way back to Baltimore’s WEBB 1360 AM radio station (fun trivia: the station was bought by James Brown back in 1970 to promote black music), where he played hip hop alongside DJ Freestyle in the '80s. In the next decade, Fulton worked alongside Baltimore’s Basement Boys (who were responsible for Crystal Waters’s “Gypsy Woman”) learning the ins and outs of early 90s garage house. His own music began to deploy vocal and piano house and by the turn of the new century, bits of dubby minimal techno, freaky electroclash, downtempo, nu-jazz, nu-disco, gospel, ghetto house and more turned up. A slew of singles appeared and more names followed: Boof, Stress, not to mention Mu, an outlandish electroclash outfit of Fulton with his wife, Mutusmi Kanamori. It can be a bit much to keep up with.

A Blink of an Eye is Maurice at his most maximal, at times moving through seemingly incongruent sounds every few measures. Dark acid tones, a robotic house throb, sirens and echoing squelches, Brazilian Carnival percussion breaks, a C+C Music Factory snare sound, and then an outburst of piquant Cuban piano not wholly unlike the Sex and the City theme music, all of which encapsulates about half of what occurs on “Sarah’s E With Extra P,” which has more next-level ideas percolating up in its six minutes than most modern producers manage over an entire album.

As exhilarating as it can be, Syclops can be an exhaustive listen as well. Which is what makes Fulton’s remixes so enthralling, being tethered to a song but liable to go interplanetary at any given moment. Taking the vanilla of Rhye’s original, Fulton injects all sort of fudgy funk and boogie nougat, with Milosh’s sensuous come-on “Make love to me” keeping it rooted. Fulton’s bassline is wondrous thing: fat, purple, globular, wobbling and warm, not unlike Grimace. There’s also congas, the quicksilver guitar chops that Nile Rodgers used to flash in Chic, and spidery Stevie Wonder-like keyboard figures. They’re all trademarks of Fulton’s 21st century sound and they’re transportive: You’re in the dock of a cavernous space station, you’re grinding in a shadowy club as a pill kicks in, you’re between satin sheets, you’re knee-deep in funk, you’re floating in space.

Syclop's LP A Blink of An Eye is out now via Running Back.