MIXTAPE REVIEW: Blue Hawaii – ‘Under 1 House’: your deep house cassette pet

BLUE HAWAII: now there’s a name that conjures up a blissful vision of lazy heat and crystal-clear waters, especially for me sat in subfusc September Britain. And the same appeal of vision would apply, you’d think, to a duo one of whom is working out of Montreal, Quebec. Blue skies, bluer waters. A lightness of musical touch, your soundtrack. Happy times, sunnier climes.

Which is actually what you’ll get with Blue Hawaii’s new mixtape Under 1 House, which the duo – Canada-based Raphaelle “Ra” Standell-Preston, also chanteuse with Braids, who drapes her vocal silk over the grooves created by Berlin resident Alex “Agor” Kerby.

They’ve been around a decade or so, have Blue Hawaii; back at the beginning they walked a lot closer to Ra’s parent band, the yin to Braids’ darker emotional yang perhaps, certainly on first album Blooming Summer, on which they charted a pristine experimental pop akin to the glittery world of Bjork – and don’t think for a second Ra hasn’t got the vocal chops for such a sphere.

Since then, they’ve moved further towards an embracing of cooltempo deep house, and their latest offering, the mixtape Under 1 House, is available for pre-order now and will be released this Friday. 

Yes, an actual mixtape: if you’ve watched the format seachange of the past few years you’ll know the humble cassette has made a resurgence alongside the current vinyl dominance. I’m still rubbing my chin, slightly bemused at the appeal; but I have to say a six-tracker of delicious grooves, taken in conjunction with the almost J-Pop aesthetic of the artwork: I get it. It’s a lovely pop culture artefact.

Which is all well and good; but does it deliver musically? 

Press play. Just play, leave the red button alone. The tape winds into life with the open, organ-vamping groove of “Feelin’” – watch out, Moloko. It’s a statement of intent as well as being the mixtape’s lead track; feel your wrists, shoulders and hips give way to that swing. 

Ra and Ag had this to say of the opener: “We jammed out the song following a series of shows in North America and Europe, where the crowd would respond best to no-frills, fun and straightforward grooves with a nice loud vocal on top. 

“The song mimics the feeling of those concerts and contains a classic touch of house music with the added flair of live saxophone and loose drum programming.”

“I Felt Love” keeps the groove flowing on a bedrock of bass burble and some nifty space-disko syndrum pops. You can watch the video below, we’ve embedded it; Ra is having a lot of fun. And that is an ever more important thing: fun. With dancefloors still shuttered across a huge proportion of the world we can pop the cassette deck at home on our retro ghetto blasters, or in the car (yes, you can also stream it digitally). It has swing, a lotta swing. I had a university friend who would lean against the bar and signal his approval of a tune with an arm in constant pendulum, seized by the beat; this would suit him down to the ground. 

…and the groove keeps coming with “Not My Boss!”, all hissin’ high hats, bongos, a warm Rhodes organ keeping things very kool indeed. Which is what you want from a mixtape, from deep house: for it to shift, rather than it to alter. A sax lick sits just out back in a shawl of reverb, gives atmosphere. There’s some lovely circular melody blowing as it shifts up front and Ra chants behind.

“Where Are The Keys???” – c’mon, we’ve all done it, all too often. It’s a fun premise. “There they are,” you hear Ra mutter near the beginning. The sax grace that was aboard for “Not My Boss!” is with us again, while Ag pushes the vibe out to a clean, European and more techy vibe; there’s plenty of wiry chatter and burble, it makes a suggestion of a more four-to-the-floor aesthetic, but stays mysterious and chill.

“No Drama” is interesting. That little popping riff and beat Ag cooks up is redolent of so many big house bangers of the past – and yet you can’t quite put your finger on what. Ra reaches for her top house diva cries. But there’s subversion at play. It’s not full-on, up in your face; the beat is light, there’s more space. It’s a subtly Berlin reinvention, following on the micro-house thing of way back, turning it down a few notches while still making sure your feet are bewitched.

Looking through that little central window on the cassette, you can see there’s more over on the left spool now than the right. We’re near the end; time for one more spin around the floor with the uptempo soulful anthem, “Let It Be Us”, which blurs the brain with some nice melodic acid and a quite theatric sense of space, Ra transmuting into a jazzy torchsinger. “Let it be me / Let it be us / Don’t make a fuss / Let it be us,” she sings in the breakdown, before all that spacey acid roll launches up just once more.

Before we finish, a word, if I may, on the circumstances of the creation of Under 1 House; obviously, the ‘rona. Although written during last year’s tour of North America and Europe and laid down at a cabin in rural Québec, travel restrictions meant the final production was achieved transatlantically. Thank god for the fibre-optic; wherever would be in this accursed year without it? (And if experimental post-classical is your thing, read our review of Olivier Alary and Johannes Malfatti’s u, i XXX, which approaches this very issue from a very different aesthetic). It also throws into sharp relief the fragility of our bonds; and likewise how valuable they are.Under 1 House is “dedicated to the spirit of togetherness. Unity achieved through confidence, in the seductive redemption of one’s own sexuality, finding power in feelin’ one’s self.”

We need each other, hopefully in most circumstances we genuinely love one another, in the particular as well as the concept; this mixtape is a slice of very cool deep house dedicated to that togetherness, and fun. Because this year more than ever in our lives, fun is a damn serious business and we all need as much of it as we can.

Blue Hawaii’s Under 1 House will be released by Arbutus Records on digital and cassette formats on September 25th; you can place your order now at the duo’s Bandcamp.

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