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Back in July 2009, when Andrew Field-Pickering launched his Heal Yourself and Move blog for The Fader magazine, his maiden post included this reminder: “‘Funky’ is as much a synonym for ‘strange’ as it is for ‘groovy.’” It was the D.C. beatmaker’s humble way of telling electronic-music snobs and subgenre-obsessed dance-music fans the same thing: It might get weird, but I’ll never steer you into wackness.
Field-Pickering’s balance of humility and sureness—and his commitment to exploring funkiness’ odd alleyways and out-of-style penthouses—are at the heart of House of Woo, his second album as Maxmillion Dunbar, the solo project that spun off from Beautiful Swimmers, his dance-oriented duo with Ari Goldman. The now-defunct Fader blog was edifying (he sold me on the nuances of Newworldaquarium, for starters), but Field-Pickering’s music—his own, and others’ on his Future Times label—expresses the totality of his worldview much more elegantly.
Most importantly, House of Woo is, y’know, about something: Field-Pickering says it flows directly from his relationship with his girlfriend, with whom he recently moved to Mount Pleasant. (He’d been a creature of Silver Spring for years.) But it’s not a lovey-dovey record so much as it’s the sound of everything coming together. From the birdy synths and slappy percussion of the opener, “Slave to the Vibe,” to the freeform synth spaceshot of the closer, “Kangaroo,” Field-Pickering goes looking for pleasure and finds it. 2010’s Cool Water, by contrast, was more about the search than the payoff.
Pleasure, however, doesn’t mean overt sexiness or cheap highs. House of Woo is a couch-session record at heart. The thump-a-dump first single, “Woo,” is a club-oriented track that works just as well for self-aware head- nodding, and the four-on-the-floor bopper “Ice Room Graffiti” slows down many BPMs near the end, as if the vibe is more important than the beat. The glossy ’80s R&B feel of “The Figurine (Nod Mix),” meanwhile, is sweet, not coked-out.
The more overtly weird stuff is where Field-Pickering’s voracious tastes really come into play. (That new Mount Pleasant abode is probably crammed with mounds of vinyl.) The clacking “Inca Tags,” which could be about a graffiti-filled Red Line vista, sounds abstract at first, but there also are sleigh bells and a ’90s hip-hop bass tone serving as guides. And “Peeling an Orange in One Piece” layers all sorts of crystal-vibration and world-music sounds (glinty keyboard scales, a low-note howl from a flute) in a way that’s loose and knowing, not corny.
There’s some tension, too, but it’s generally just for the sake of contrast. Early on, the hectic washes of shimmery synths and heartbeat bass-drum pattern of “Coins for the Canopy” make it clear that Field-Pickering expects some commitment from the listener. Later, “Loving the Drift” makes the case that with a few tweaks, techno can be a gratifying lean-back experience, too. For that song and for everything else on House of Woo, hand-holding is optional, but as long as everybody has both ears open, the love should be obvious.