Warrior Loves (Tribute To Cherushii)
Sound Warrior Recordings/US/2X12
This compilation is a tribute to Chelsea Faith Dolan, aka Cherushii, the Bay Area producer who lost her life in the Ghost Ship fire on December 2nd 2016. The music on the record, bar one track, is by female artists and features two tracks by Cherushii herself. The record is on two, beautifully-pressed, vinyl discs released by the Sound Warrior Recordings label, an imprint and DJ/performance collective, which is run by Jenifa Mayanja of the Blu-Mako Recordings label and Dakini9, aka Lola Rephann, who co-owns the Plan B Recordings label with DJ Spider.
Cherushii’s “Milk Of Paradise” opens the collection. It is a euphoric house track that leans subtly towards the melancholy, — like any great deep house track should — an homage to the early ‘90s while still sounding modern and forward-looking. It’s driving, it swings and contains beautiful chord changes and a thought-evoking voice sample. Next up is “Viva La Vida” by Daniela La Luz, a softly-stomping, late-night cruiser that incorporates smooth, phasing sounds and a heart-tugging melody with a Japanese intonation. To my ears the track’s shunting beats double as the bass line and three quarters of the way through a Spanish spoken word segment comes in, followed by rollings hits of Latin percussion, before the track breaks down and vamps out with the percussion and more Spanish spoken word. These elements not only make it a great track but an invaluable tool for the creative DJ.
As you reel from the effect of Daniela La Luz’s prowess with the 4/4 groove you are led into track three, Cherushii’s deep house masterpiece “No Doubt In My Mind.” This is another dazzling foray into that space where the joyous connects with the pensive. It’s tough and dreamy all at once, moving forward on a bounding bass line that runs below rising waves of synth strings and a plaintive vocal sample intoning “no doubt in my mind.” As the track progresses it swells, bringing to mind the euphoric abandon of the early ‘90s, the time and places in which deep house, breakbeats, melodic, galactic techno, Italo piano stormers and hip-houseian optimism coalesced to lead us all to the promised land. Cherushii gets lost in all that sound, all that feeling, but brings it into the present while dreaming wide-eyed of the future. Simply put, it is exquisite.
“Warrior Strutt” is an offering by Warrior Sound Recordings boss Jenifa Mayanja. It’s a funky amalgam of live bass and a female vocal sample chanting “she comes” gliding under equally glissading, glassy, rolling keys. It sounds like Marshall Jefferson, Larry Heard and The Burrell Brothers, at their Nu Groove jazziest, running the red light at a particularly tricky intersection and winding up in a gloriously chromatic pile up. A late night or early morning groove. “To Be With You” by Lady Fingers follows, veering away from the full jazz approach of Mayanja and hitching its party float to a minimalist techno vehicle that tries, but fails, to avoid the puddles of soul, chords and floating synth tones on the roadway to the inexhaustible funk. Cmd — a pseudonym for one C McDonald — pares everything back on “Revere,” a sinewy and tenacious house track composed of a bass line like a bouncing ball, tumbling, cubic, synth tones and sparse, haunting strings. No vocal samples or human inflections, this one is a straight-ahead, no nonsense voyager for the late-night, heads-down crew.
Avalele, who has two singles and an album on the Slovakian imprint RestArt Label, comes correct with “Unbeaten,” a minimalist and percussive technoid houser that bumps forward on singular bursts of bass and piano chords that slowly build into a melancholy but captivating progression. Three quarters of the way in it transforms into a twitching, yet hovering, mutant, garage experiment. The beats have plenty of swing and gradually morph in texture over the course of the track. It is an adroit exercise in understated tension and release. “Vital Signs” by Lilith, a womanly pseudonym for male composer Scott Gibbons, is a throbbing and atmospheric study in haunting, but driving, minimalism. It subtly builds its mechanistic groove around a truncated vocal sample, metal synth stabs, a stripped down, but churning bass line and washes of menacing strings. This is one for dancing in dark corners in dark clubs on dark nights.
The last slice of sonic perfection is “Twilight” by Aurora Halal, the producer, DJ and visual artist who founded the Mutual Dreaming parties. It’s an introspective and drifting sequence of muted, chiming tones, delicately rolling beats and gusts of laser sounds. The bass line is buried deep in the track but sounds like it would displace some air on a large system. If you close your eyes while listening you might feel like you’re floating, maybe on a shiny, metal platform that glacially rotates around a fading, collapsing sun. It is a beautiful track and a wonderful way to finish this excellent compilation.
Warrior Loves is without doubt one of the best collections of dance music I have heard in a really long time. In an era when house/techno culture remains a boy’s club and displays some of the excesses of the male of the species, namely competitiveness, oneupmanship and the sauna-like fever of hubris, this release exhibits qualities that used to define and drive the dance floors of the past, when people of all ethnicities, orientations and genders communed in darkly lit rooms to shake down and shake off the weight of the oppressive, outside world.
Perhaps it sounds patronizing (though that is not my intent) but dance music could really use a woman’s touch right now and this compilation is ample proof of that. It is also a fitting tribute to the sadly missed Cherushii. Her tracks on this collection inspire me in the same way as Alex Neri, Gemolotto and the deepest Strictly Rhythm tunes did in ’91 and ’92. Her deft production touch makes me dream of the equally skillful techniques Yvonne Turner employed on the dub of “Take Some Out” by Arnold Jarvis.
Chelsea’s music is imbued with the feel of classic house, but she added hints of techno and evidently had a deep love for the rave classics that unashamedly defined the mood of that era and its promise of utopian redemption. She skillfully slotted all these elements into her music and then made it sound current and futuristic. These strong and idealistic components are balanced on elegant, romantic arrangements punctuated by emotionally resonant arrays of chords that are perfect for falling in love to or for envisioning the terrain of colonies on possible worlds too. It is sensual, humane and passionate futurism that isn’t frightened to engage joy or the r&b influences that informed past house and techno classics.
On a personal note, the day after the fire I sat listening to “Nightsteps” from Cherushii’s Faraway So Close EP. I listened to it eight times in a row, overcome by a feeling of desolation at the colossal loss of life and also from the utter disappointment of having failed to connect to her music while she was alive — her two 100% Silk EPs lay in my apartment for months unopened, with many other records, while I was sick during the fall and winter of 2016. I thought of all the reviews I wrote when I worked at various magazines and all the emails I sent to people, to tell them about new tracks, new artists. Here I was sitting listening to a deep house track that honestly epitomized everything about the genre I love but unable to affect even a tiny degree of progress for Chelsea’s career as maybe some of my meager XLR8R reviews had for a few producers in the halcyon ‘90s. I cursed the fire, my loss of optimism and idealism and my self-absorption.
This compilation does the work of spreading the word and more. I sit listening to “No Doubt In My Mind” and imagine the horizons that will be seen and heard from the route out of an atonal, hyped present into a melodic, lush and sleek future. Other gifted young women, such as those on this collection, energized by Chelsea’s memory and mastery, will take the baton and explore that future for us. I hope so, because it wasn’t just the Bay Area that lost one of its great musicians, the entire spectrum of dance music did. Christopher Orr