One of the most interesting things about Houston producer Sly Drexler’s new EP, Transitions, is his producer tag. Appearing throughout the brief project at irregular intervals, the tag is uttered (by Sly himself?) with a subtle hint of irritation. When we interviewed the producer duo Christian Rich, they told us that they don’t use a producer tag because their music “speaks for itself.” That’s a commendable stance, but in an era (and genre) with innumerable thieves and vultures, the reality is that the music can’t always speak for itself: more often than not, it needs “backing vocals,” an inscribed audio watermark, even if that means slightly defacing it. Sly Drexler’s irritable producer tag suggests that he experiences that reality, but so does every other producer. Thus, this is the real question: is Sly Drexler’s irritation justified? Does his music actually speak for itself?
The answer is a resounding yes. Transitions is a grand effort in reappropriating, in taking [overly] familiar sounds and patterns and using them for something else. In other words, it’s not a reinvention of the wheel, but an assertion that the wheel can take us to other places. For instance, on the aptly-named “BMW,” Sly presents us with 808s, snares and other such well-known trappings (pun intended) and subordinates them to a goofy, wobbly sound effect that leads the track. This subordination allows him to highlight the other layers of the track, namely some whiny keys and synths. The result is a song that’s good for more than dancing, a track that gives the listener multiple ways of experiencing the music. Another way to put it is that Sly gives us an opportunity to do more with our new BMW than just drive fast and feel rich; we now get to drive slow or bring the dog along or observe the people on the streets.
The standout track is “Inner City Madness,” an estranging track that combines a sullen, stretched wail with a loud drum pattern and a surprised organ. While the songs of the EP are collectively capable of standing alone, sans vocals, “Inner City Madness” feels the most resistant. The track plows forth without interruption, engorging itself on its own momentum without ever getting full of itself.
Such a lack of surfeit is what makes Transitions as a whole so appealing. Sly Drexler doesn’t attempt to arrogantly predetermine where a song should go, heavily burdening it so that it will only turn out one way; he lightly equips it with interesting elements and he allows it to become rather than to be. Perhaps this is where the EP gets its title. His songs and their constituent elements never crystallize; they stay warm, constantly unfolding toward something new, perpetually transitioning. They always maintain their own flavor, of course, but as tastes change – and they always do (be warned trapaholics…) – songs like these don’t get written off as something from a bygone era; they just get consumed differently. Ultimately, this is what separates the producers with “runs” from the producers with careers.
You can acquire Transitions here.
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