Review: James Ferraro - Sushi
(Digital / CD / Vinyl LP, Hippos in Tanks, 2012)
Oh, James Ferraro. Always changing, always on the move. If all his albums, starting from his work with Spencer Clark as The Skaters duo, and ending with his newest release, ”Sushi”, were made into one long movie, it would be a story of a constantly stoned shaman moving from a half-ruined shack deep in the woods to the body-building obsessed suburban neighborhood dominated with a huge shopping plaza with inoffensive muzak playing constantly and free wi-fi zones in every cafe and fast food restaurant. Towards the end of the movie, the shaman, now transformed into a brand-concsious, gadget wielding “modern man” moves into the downtown, filled with glossy skyscrapers. The final scene, playing to sounds from “Sushi” would be Ferraro going to the night club on a Saturday night, driving a chromed Hummer and wearing designer clothes, picking up hot chicks and downing one expensive drink after another.
If some 2-3 years ago someone told me Ferraro will be creating head-nodding, foot-stomping dancefloor electronica being just one notch away from being straight away club bangers, I would have laughed in that person’s face. But hell, here is he is: reshaping his sharp sense of satire and high definition parodies of consumerist lifestyle into house and IDM beats, continuing the line started with his Bodyguard project, with even more focus on rhythm and catchiness. It’s almost perverse to think how accessible and danceable Ferraro has become over the years. To start with the pleasantly lazy opening tones of “Powder” - a slo-mo R&B jam, which, while still filled with some trademark Ferraroisms - like the strange bubbly sound hidden in the beat - is far less cheesy and cheap-sounding than previous Ferraro productions. It’s temtping to say that on “Sushi” James starts to take things seriously. Of course, the change is not as radical as you might think at first - the cheese is still sprayed all over the album, this time however, it’s not as obnoxious and jarring as before; this time Ferraro relies on subtletly and tries not to distract the listener from the enjoyable, gliding synth lines that underline the right, dancey rhythm sections.
I think the future, not the far future, but even the near future will consider “Sushi” as James Ferraro’s “Big Leap” album, the one that will make him more open to the less obscure-music seeking crowd. Which is not as bad as you might think. Ferraro is already working on a collab with Dean Blunt (of Hype Williams fame) and the duo are already going on a mini-tour in the US. Here, on JF’s newest offering, he runs with jaw-dropping ease through a maze of future garage, microhouse and ambient techno beats sprayed with a lovely futuristic haze. This blend of strange, cut-up samples and minimal beats sounds like a less serious, more tongue-in-cheek version of Akufen or Actress. Ferraro makes a quite liberal use of modified samples from well-known hits (I think I can spot a Rihanna sample in one of the tracks). It’s hard to tell whether “Sushi” is an outsider homage to house and techno genres or another sharp satire on contemporary music; while “Far Side Virtual” exposed the idiocy of consumerism-lead everyday life, dominated by brands and fleeting technologies, “Sushi” can very well be a subtler, but still hard-hitting parody of hedonistic club beats, suspended in a haze of alcohol and drug inebration and also celebrating consumerism, but in a more aggressive, rhythmical way. Or maybe I’m just over-analyzing things.
The more dancefloor-oriented tracks are the real highlights of the album, they show that JF has the knack for creating club anthems, if he would like to. Maybe it’s the fact that he moved to the generally warmer and more spacious L.A. (again) after living for some time in New York City. Considering the city’s underground psychedelic connection with dance music (exemplified by the Not Not Fun subsidiary, dance-music oriented label 100% Silk), it was only natural that James should move to the more dynamic, neon-colored electronic productions. The minimal structure of “Baby Mitsubishi” almost sounds like a fresh cut straigt outta some underground London-based label, not a work of a well-known musical parodist. The wonderful bass boosts on “SO N2U” complete the ever-changing urban musical landscape, sounding like a dynamic montage to the documentary about the club culture in general.
The fact that James Ferraro has decided to record an album like “Sushi” might show his new direction: instead of playing at little-known outsider music festivals he might want to sneak into the big DJ parties and become an embodiment of the stranger, more adventurous part of the club culture. Let’s hope he succeeds, I’d love to see him make some holy fucking bangers in the near future.