Theo Parrish sets a creative precedent for nostalgia with ‘American Intelligence’ [Album Review]
American Intelligence. It’s a line that begs satire, sniggers, or pride depending on where you find yourself in the world, but in the dance music department, the notion is very real. You don’t need to look far to be reminded of the fabled birth of house music: all those wonderful stories told, recited and remembered through the life and times of Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levant, The Belleville Three (Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson and Juan Atkins, FYI) and of course, a wealth of disco’s finest stateside pioneers. To search the history books and find a more obscure and respected paragon of American house than Theo Parrish would be a genuine challenge. With a penchant for long, complicated and generally off-the-cuff LPs behind him, the Chicago-educated talent is back to test the aptitude of two generations: one who has seen the heyday of his music pass, the other at the forefront of its latest renaissance.
Theo Parrish is an American house outsider. As if such brandage didn’t carry wonderfully outlandish undertones, his most recent music follows suit. There is no direct correlation between the sound of American Intelligence and the late great Detroit legacy now reduced to a handful of survivors and some over told biographical accounts. For a start, Parish’s recording career formally clocked-in back in 1994, with his debut album coming four years later.
This breathing space and natural separation works in the Washington-born producer’s favor considerably, allowing Parrish to scale every influential sound in the North American history books – from acid house and gritty heyday techno, experimental jazz and eccentric funk, without the stylistic monkey that so many of his national peers – however great and accomplished – seldom played outside of. As a man who was testing the lifeblood of house music long before its stylistic playbook – now tried, tested and distorted via chart aspirations and cookie-cutter big room recoveries – Theo is an old school artist liberated in ways so many modern American artists could only dream of.
Past this mixed bag of stimuli, the music begs considerable concentration, with the likes of opening remarks “Drive” and “Be In You Self” passing the ten-minute mark. To that extent, this is not an album set to turn the newer generation of house music aficionados back to the history books. It’s more rewarding than that – and the target audience is those looking for something unapologetically captivating framed in a time when people where making music to muster emotions, not hype.
His UK home of Plastic People may have recently closed its doors, but the heavy handed creativity that pervades American Intuition – right from the eclectic sounds through to the carefully used song titles – keep the charm and challenged presented by this late Detroit bloomer increasingly close to home. Repetitive and wonderful in every way, Theo Parish has set a new precedent for nostalgia within the modern house market unlikely to be trumped with the same maverick quality.