Review Mr. Fingers - Mr. Fingers 2016 (Alleviated)
Studio silence shouldn’t mean too much to house DJs with footing, fig.1: Fingers collaborator Robert Owens hasn’t released an album this decade. The reasoning is clear, once you’ve made it, and you’ve settled down with your own legacy, what’s there to prove that you can’t demonstrate in a split single or a remix? That’s the question Mr. Fingers 2016, the third in a series of EPs spanning four decades, answers neatly. The release is Heard’s first foray into a multi track release in ten years, significant as he was one of the few to build a narrative around a house LP. 1988 effort Another Side, recorded with house supergroup Fingers Inc. is sprawling yet clear-cut, packing just enough fire across its 16 tracks to endure its avid 90 minute run time. Amnesia, Heard’s debut album as a soloist, (released just before Another Side) was more definite, a 12 track introduction that similarly features the same smash singles that made Heard a house-hold name. The mood is humid, with clattered mixing, and dialogue stripped from hits like ‘Can You Feel It’ to let you know it’s the production that you should be paying attention to.
Mr. Fingers 2016, a sharp four track affair, is more reminder than reissue. Like Amnesia, its focus is on Heard the producer, that much is evident from its stark title. Yet what he chooses to showcase where he’s at now is what makes Mr. Fingers so much more essential than late career cash in. Opener ‘Outer Acid’ is a crawling stage setter with a trademark squelch. The undertones are familiar, it’s a track that could fit securely in Aphex Twin’s 2014 effort Syro, another release that showcased a producer updating their discography with something compatible. But unlike Syro, it’s what’s not familiar on this song: namely a trailing jazz piano and dissonant background bells which are the real points of interest. It’s demonstrative of an artist willing to tinker, not recklessly rebrand, adding subtle key changes and instrumental switch ups onto a familiar canvas. The result is powerful.
Heard’s not overtly concerned with giving the house heads that idolise him something to groove to. Second track ‘Qwazars’ features rattling percussion below waves of spacious synth pads. There’s a 4/4 beat, with a snare sharp enough to draw crowds to the floor if mixed correctly, but that’s just not the aim here. Just when the track builds enough suspense for a drop, a vocal sample fills in the empty space. The dialogue (‘what’s going on? Quasars…’) is comical, reminiscent of a sci-fi TV special spoof. It adds real character to a song that’s otherwise mostly bare in presentation. When Heard does appease those searching for a pragmatic rhythm on third track ‘Nodyahead’, it’s firmly on his own watch. The mix is partly filled with a feral beat, equipped with bells and rattles, a vibrant contrast to the soft synths that Heard additionally blends in. The latter keeps the everything neatly concise within the other songs despite the freewheeling energy within. The result is anything but jarring. The contrary, in sonically limiting himself, Heard has made his return to wax naturally.
The last and best track here, ‘Aether’ seems to be the most vivid self portrait of Mr. Fingers right now. The closer is bleak, with guitar plucks, deep vocal synths and a mournful piano line. The work could be the closest a house producer gets to making new age, and the restrained closer is apt for a collection of music sonically grounded on the fringe. Ether as a compound is colourless, and similarly 2016 sometimes lacks the dazzle and passion of previous additions in the Mr. Fingers EP series or even Heard’s miscellaneous past discography. Yet it’s his calculative decision-making, along with an enduring desire to experiment that makes this release worthwhile. It won’t go down as a highlight, but it doesn’t need to. You want to know what a Mr. Fingers can prove in 2016? Here it is.
By Reuben Tasker