Chopstick & Johnson - Twelve (Album review)

Nowadays, it is becoming increasingly common for artists to create their own labels. That is true to Berlin-based duo Chopstick & Johnson, owners of Suol imprint, that has been dropping great house and techno music since its inception in 2010, releasing albums for artists like Trickski, Fritz Kalkbrenner, Chasing Kurt, Daniel Bortz and Till von Sein. The duo itself has a steady catalogue of singles and EPs that date back to 2004, but only now they're releasing their debut album, 'Twelve'.

Chi-Thien Nguyen and John B. Muder (the two musician's true names) seem to have a genetic disposition for building soothing house gems, trading energy for ambience and while their music is mainly dance floor oriented, it can also easily find its place in your living room at a dinner with friends or even as a soundtrack for relaxing after a stressful work day. They also have remixed other artists like Digitalism, Sono, Aeroplane and Robyn, usually adding their organic conception of rhythm to the originals in order to provide a calm incursion into house music territory. Sometimes, they also venture into other genres, experimenting with electro and even hip-hop. Whatever the result, it always seems to be fueled by the symbiosis that connects the two artists.

But one can't forget another piece of this puzzle called 'Twelve': Chris James, singer of the band Stateless, is heavily featured in most of the tracks, his voice becoming another instrument - or, should we say, THE instrument? -, giving a lot of character to Chopstick & Johnson's electronic constructions. Not too fierceful nor too faint, his candid vocals harmonize with the duo's subtle sound and lush compositions.

'Twelve' starts with a slow burning track called 'Run Slowly', a fluid and eerie ballad in which acoustic elements play side by side with deep beats to create an effortless song rooted in the deep house dialects. On the other hand, songs like 'Comets' and 'Silent Sea' steadily increase the endorphin flux, releasing seductive pheromones that will make your body react to their encompassing rhythms.

Another contributor to this album's rich and smooth atmosphere is Tanner Ross, a New Jersey born producer that is also a member of the Wolf + Lamb crew. In 'Twisted' he uses his production skills to create a lazy jam, a barely naked rhythmic structure that becomes incredibly sensual and organic, sustaining James' vocals with intangible scarlet strings of silk. He returns in 'Nothing Yet', where disco droplets refresh the album's overall mood.

Chopstick & Johnson also visit landscapes where jazz and soul architectures rule. That is more notorious in  the sultry 'Dissolving Spaces', a track in which the basal percussion and the cello strings sculpt its personality. Meanwhile, you get fascinated by 'Erase This Images' contemporaneity as the solid beats and the gentle synths bring the dancefloor to you, wherever you may be. But if those two songs reflect the past and the present, 'I Will Follow' could carry in its structure visions of the future, easily becoming one of the most frolicsome tunes in the whole album, grooming soft piano chords and vocal fragments with a modern tech-house structure.

One of the previously released singles is also featured on the album: 'Pinning Moon' is filled with a tribal charisma that easily buys you off, as James' lines wonderfully intertwine with this Chopstick & Johnson imaginative sonic ritual. There are acoustic guitar swirls and a contemplative cello cry, both adding layers of mysticism to the song.

The last songs in the album might be the least interesting, though. 'Roots' sounds like commonplace tech-house and were it not for James' voice, it would become easily forgetable, while the bubbly 'Dreading the Light' just doesn't live up to the rest of the album strong moments. The last song is an acoustic rendition of 'Pinning Moon', which might be a wonderful and serene way to end the album but doesn't bring anything new to the experience.

Ultimately, the album's main strenght is its ability to give warmth and a human touch to electronic music, specially to house and dance music, which many artists fail to convey in their songs. The ten years the duo have waited sure worked in their favor, enabling them to grow as artists and put out a strong debut album that showcases all their previous work and also escapes most of the genre's clichés. Let's just hope we don't have to wait another ten years to listen to Chopstick & Johnson's sophomore.

RATE: 8/10

Chopstick & Johnson - Facebook
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Chris James - Facebook
Tanner Ross - Facebook | Soundcloud

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