Euglossine, ‘Dance District’

Posted by on September 30, 2013

MJMJ Records, 9/14/2013

Dance District is the latest release from Gainesville synth wizard Euglossine (real name Tristan Whitehill), and his first on MJMJ Records. Before I had ever heard Whitehill’s solo music, I had seen him play keyboards with groups like Levek, MSNRA, Jovian Junction Orchestra and more; it seemed that any show I went to in Gainesville or Orlando, he was in at least one of the bands. This versatility is apparent in his work as Euglossine, which showcases both his impressive technical skills and tasteful restraint, but Dance District also sounds like the product of an absolutely single-minded effort. It’s rare for an album to be this focused and consistent, yet still have a depth of musical ideas that never allows it to feel repetitious or monotonous.

On Dance District, Euglossine uses the sonic touchstones of dance music to explore increasingly florid, writhing departures from what listeners have come to expect from the genre. There are crisp drum machines, squelchy synths, etcetera, but they’re used as compositional tools rather than ingredients for a predictable build-and-break structure. Songs move and flow organically according to their own sense of time — you can certainly dance your way through the entire album (and you’ll want to), but the music is not a utilitarian device designed for that purpose.

One theme that’s nearly impossible not to notice is that of plant life and natural growth, as evidenced by the album’s sprawling, blooming floral cover and song names like “Tetrasporangia” (which, according to Google, is “a unicellular sporangium found in certain red algae”) but also by the Mandelbrot rhythms which grow outwards symmetrically, repeating again and again without ever sounding like the same thing twice. Euglossine has a knack on this album for crafting rhythms and melodies that roll over from one bar to the next, allowing for a sense of endlessness and reflection, much like the mirrored flowers and human bodies on the album’s cover. The middle of “Honey Fortress/Hexagon Tunnel” opens up into a hypnotic loop that verges on pure minimalism, allowing a moment of weightlessness and timelessness. If it were a Steve Reich piece, that moment could last twenty minutes, but Whitehill deftly fades it into the next song after only a minute and a half — too many ideas to let one linger for too long.

What’s really fun about Euglossine’s music is the way that he works different styles seamlessly into his unified sound. You can hear shades of Mr. Hands-era Herbie Hancock’s slick noodle-funk in “Fauna’s Soiree” and echoes of Kraftwerk’s neon-urban Man Machine sound in “Tongue And Dimension.” Neither of these feel like even subtle references, much less direct homages. They are firmly embedded within Euglossine’s signature sound, and any connection between the two is on the side of the listener. Still, it’s a testament to Whitehill’s palate, not to mention his talent, that his music can seem to touch on these different sounds without ever departing from his own musical world.

Some have compared Dance District to classic video game soundtracks, while others have likened it to some kind of sordid crab disco. However, I can’t help but go the obvious route and think of it as one giant, weird plant, moving naturally without breaks from beginning to end, reaching out tendrils into numerous different types of dance music, electronic music, funk, even hints of Romantic-era classical, without giving up any of its essential, singular identity.