ALBUM REVIEW: The Twilite Tone – ‘The Clearing’: crisp future electro breaks

THE TWILITE TONE is the project of Anthony Khan, Chicago-born musician and deep beats thinker.

He’s always been surrounded by music, soaking it up; his uncle is bassist Hassan Khan, who was a member of Chicago’s “first family of soul”, The Five Stairsteps, and The Staple Singers.  

Tone first linked up with Common in the 1980s, as DJ for him and No I.D; he went on to co-produce much of Common’s excellent debut album, Can I Borrow A Dollar. He’s also been behind the faders on records we know and love that include Gorillaz’s Humanz, Kanye’s massive single, “Mercy”, and John Legend’s Love in the Future. That particular production gig earned him three deserved Grammy nominations. 

Although they first met back towards the turn of the century, it wasn’t until a couple of years back that Peanut Butter Wolf – hiphop legend in his own right and founder of Stones Throw – heard The Twilite Tone material; he knew Stones Throw would be the perfect home.

For his part, Tone’s wanted a tabula rasa; to “… clear and cleanse all the collected debris of the past, whether deemed ‘good’ or ‘bad’, to allow people to see, hear, and begin to know me.” 

It was “the evolution of the Chicago dance music scene, as well as the evolution of underground hip-hop here, that pushed me to seek, find and ultimately create the perfect beats, rhymes, style and life around who I am authentically,” he continues.

The Clearing is a space and place of being free. We need to clear the debris from the desk and see the mahogany wood, so we can do the work. 

“I don’t just want to talk, I want to do the work.” Seems fair. Let’s let the music do the talking.

Anthony Khan, aka The Twilite Tone. Photograph by Christine Ciszczon

The Clearing opens on the sampling skit of “Introduction: Journey Into Sound”: a manifesto laid out. It features that vocal sample – the plummy tones of Geoffrey Sumner, lifted from the 1958 stereo test LP A Journey Into Stereo Sound – and a little disco lift from Manhattan Transfer, for extra measure. It finds its shape in the crispest breaks overlaying pleasingly squelchy electro, one foot in 70s’ funk, one in electro futurists such as Drexciya. And from there explodes into “The Lite”, grinding futurism with sci-fi samples, ethereal choirs interjecting, a fat, fat shuffle; it’s a speaker-rocker. Turn it up and curl a lip in satisfaction.

“It’s You Issues” and “Ancestors And Angels” root in 70s’ soul, brought up through the present and further forward again in electro zazz and hypnotic tonality, samples spilling, textures deepening. Each track reportedly corresponds to a period of Tone’s life – it’s almost as if the tracks present a cognitive process; a favourite tune of a period as a memory trigger, viewed through a very fine electronic production prism.

The single from back in July, “Do It Properly”, is a knockout slice of Mo’Wax-style atmosphere. It comes in on a sampled speech, rousing, on a crisp as hell break; it opens out into a big, deep ‘n’ squelchy cinematic future funk wash, blending modern production and textural chops, synthwave and P-funk into an irresistible and offbeat groove, intersecting at the crossroads of many genres. It’s deep, it’s cinematic, it hooks you right in and gets that head nodding with absolute appreciation. The tonal quality and absolute immersion it demands will put you in mind of Innerzone Orchestra’s classic “Bug In The Bass Bin”. And there’s no let up with its coda, “The Sound”: a massive, grandstanding slab of fuzztoned tronica.

Tone says: “‘Do It Properly’ is an ever-evolving suite. The intro is taken from a speech by Dr Khalid Muhammad, which Public Enemy also used to open “Night Of The Living Baseheads”. 

“I repurposed the sound byte as a call and response that speaks in past tense, reminding me that I have been brought to a place where I have taken my ‘name, reputation, language, religion, culture, god’ and even ‘mind’ away, so I can come to a new place, space and time.”

“Tuff Love” fires all kindsa sci-fi weaponry at you over big, big breaks. It debuts on what sounds like a Lucia Pamela sample – the St Louis eccentric whose Into Outer Space With… is a crate-diggers’ holy grail.

In a way, it’s surprising how chronologically short many of the tracks are, given the complex, layered worlds they contain. Such is the case with “N Loveagain”, all 142 seconds of it, which begins in a furious spoken sample, picking up a little Grandmaster Flash interjection, a B-Boy break that will straighten your back, and trips it all out into a soundscape that engages your synaesthesia as much as your flexing neck.

“Baby Steps” is a cooler, smoother funk groove, coming at you with whispered samples. It’s sexy in a Handsome Boy Modeling School vein, deep and louche. 

“I Still Need Love” stays loose, and plays out into “All’s Fair” on a sample from “Two Tribes”  – which, respect (There’s a record which can really light a fire and which will surprise you if you hear it out – it really does sound alive, 80s’ pop chartbuster or not). “All’s Fair” steps out towards funky, open electro-tech-house with pristine shimmer; and it stays out on a fine electro tip for “Honorable Mention”: it’d be great to cruise through the Windy City’s downtown with this on the car stereo. 

“Golden Silence” continues that blissful, grand sweep; we close out in “Taxi Cab Confessions”, built around a Morse-like ditditting, the call of the cab in congested traffic sweeping you home on the lightest of skipping beats. We’ve embedded the freshly minted video for this one down below, in which the grooves frame, well … taxi cab confessions, of course. Tone looks beyond with intelligence, tells the tale.

It’s actually unfair to focus in on individual tracks with The Twilite Tone’s debut set; for it’s a pretty seamless trip through his music and his musical loves. It’s a journey, a multifaceted sonic excursion, best enjoyed absolutely as a whole – in that it shares ground with Endtroducing …

In fact, if you were ever seduced by Mo’Wax when it was a truly great, genre-busting, peerless purveyor of breaks, this is totally the album for you. Crisp, crunchy, casting references towards gospel, Philly soul, electro, the Midwest techno originators, all laced up with deep thought and intelligence, it has breaks that get deep under your skin, insist on your partaking. It’s science, and it’s irresistible.

The Twilite Tone’s The Clearing will be released by Stones Throw on digital and vinyl formats on October 9th. You can pre-order direct from the label here, if you’re Stateside; or Piccadilly Records, in the UK.

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