The Man Who Lived Underground (Music for Freaks)

Not assertive enough in its right to evolve, house music often goes through periods as club culture's own Muzak -- stuck in a moment when it's always the background, screaming with loud emotion but projecting absolutely no feeling. Although house's fringes are consistently frayed with edgy instrumental sedition (currently in the form of the Herbert-influenced microhouse boomlet) and "Love Is the Message"-style hippie uplift, the music played in da local club is rarely about anything more than lifestyle marketing. And as much as Felix or the Basement Jaxx saut their tracks with punky spices, their scenes can kinda smell like new-car adverts, too.

This is most certainly not the case with The Man Who Lived Underground, the third album by Freaks, London veterans Justin Harris and Luke Solomon. Thorny and alienated even as its primary goal is the shaking of thy rumparts, Underground is a rewiring of the house Frankenstein, a druggy street-level take on an unstable time that moves beyond loved-up sentimentality, full of primordial minimalism (think drum machines with Prince's paisley-funk fixations) that bashes as good as it grinds! Devoid of strings and syrupy divas, it's kinda like Blade Runner, dizzy with drama and detonation devices (including one little purple pill called "Psycho Delia" that may be the single best bad-trip house has ever recorded).

That Freaks also create songs pop fans can grab onto and call their own only speaks to how mismanaged most house assets have been since "Around the World." More specifically, "Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?", a metallic-funk charger with a dubby keyboard melody and Stella Attar's restrained take on looking for a boyfriend during some catastrophe, is the best terror-alert anthem Ashcroft never wrote. It may be understandable that no one expects social commentary from house, but, like Green Velvet, Freaks really see no reason it can't be done. It is, in fact, essential for the survival of both house and its constituency.

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