I was initially drawn to Seattle label ¡Viva! because the art direction was so superb with a wonderful sleeve by Todd Omotani. Going solely on the artwork has proven to be a good bet only half the time, but it’s always a wonderful feeling to take a gamble on a release and be pleasantly surprised by good tracks. It’s one of the best ways to discover forgotten gems yearning for a second chance, or to detect some heat right under your unassuming nose.
For Farmyard Flavours Volume 2 by The Rurals the artwork is of a large monochromatic barn and the typeface is bold sans serif font. Reminiscent in the design, the idea that there are some simple country-folk out in the fields by day who return to their barn studio at night to produce the smoothest house music imaginable is very charming. This is exactly the case – maybe not the barn studio, but that’s what I like to picture. The Rurals have been incredibly prolific too, releasing mounds of EPs and full lengths since the mid-’90s. One member of the group is Andy Compton, whom most deep house aficionados will be familiar with.
Producers with an indelible groove rooted in classical jazz with impeccable taste for true, soulful house music have it figured out. The formula has proven effective on the dance floor and in our headphones time and time again, but these boys really hit the mark – it would seem – on each and every release. What is so especially tasty about this record is a representation of different electronic jazz styles in the deep house arena. All three tracks have their own vibe. The structure of each is stylistically an exercise, from slow and vocal-infused to heavily looped and upbeat. Nonetheless rather than samples each track uses live instruments.
On A1 “River” is definitely the shining star of the release – a real relaxed and sprawling number. Hypnotic swung out drum pattern slug along with a single chord and sparse bass. The kick itself has been shaped down to have no low end at all, which shifts the attention from what would be a dance floor ready pattern to the warm, succulent scale solos of the electric piano that swoops in after a few minutes. The beauty of this track is in how expertly stripped back it is. However, the danger of pulled back tunes is lacking the magic to really draw you in, but thanks to skilled mix downs and arrangements, this track puts the emphasis in all the right places. This is the kind of tune you’d put on over wine with your dinner date, or long after the sun has come up at the after party. Each time I play it, someone is always inquiring after – stamped and certified.
“Dub Eye” on A2 sets us up for a more dance driven house number. The skittered and spread out percussion from the flip is traded for a more classic Chicago four on the floor pattern and prevalent bass that has the release knob on the synthesizer cranked all the way up. The amazingly warm synths and that delicious electric piano appear again, but in a more classic and repetitive manner. Halfway through groovy bongos push the energy forward even more. If A1 was made for the lounge, A2 was crafted for the club.
To complete the perfectly balanced trifecta, on A3 “Fallin” was a cut that I long ignored because I hadn’t yet realized the power of downtempo, chillout/instrumental, RnB and other sub 100 BPM genres. When you’re freshly addicted to house, it feels slow and uninteresting. Taste inevitably grows though and I think most people come to embrace these styles of music in house partly because they provide so much soul and funk through their influence. This track sounds like the best night in a live jazz club you’ve ever been to. It’s very easy to close your eyes and see the band recording this jam. Soft female vocals over live bass, sprightly sax tangents, and a fat old guitar solo all over a more hip-hop influenced drum pattern. The kind of tune you make that “ooooof” face to as you bob your head to the vibe – it’s the perfect wrap up to a super tight record.
So the moral of the story here, friend, is to grab any ¡Viva! release you come across because they’re mostly fantastic, and absolutely scoop any work by The Rurals. These boys know exactly what they’re doing. Both are kicking around used bins here and there so keep you eyes peeled. Sadly, vinyl on the label stopped in 2004 after 17 releases, but they’ve taken to releasing digital in recent years to remind the world that they are still dedicated to the craft.