House music's throbbing beats, feel-good vibe, and bare midriffs are never going to be mistaken for Rachmaninoff. But the genre's bad rep can actually be attributed to DJs and producers who pander to the lowest common denominator with a steady stream of 4/4 beats and whooshy atmospherics instead of pushing deeper rhythms and more exotic sounds. With the release of Morphology -- the sophomore effort from SF's live dance experience Afro-Mystik -- producer, DJ, and Om Records boss Chris Smith (a.k.a. DJ Fluid) seems determined to do that.

Afro-Mystik is party music, but a more complex and varied kind than we're used to hearing. Like labelmate Mark Farina, Smith uses house only as a reference point. He goes beyond it, exploring a wide variety of organic sounds such as Afro-Cuban and Brazilian drums on his instrumental tracks. Flutes, wooden wind chimes, ephemeral chants, and jazzy strings make up Morphology, perhaps aligning it more with jazz's adventurous eclecticism than house's single-minded focus on the dance floor.

The vocal cuts, which make up about a third of the album, are more of a mixed bag. Laid-back raps by MC Capital A and spoken word from vocalist Omega vibe nicely, but the latter's more soulful efforts aren't nearly as interesting. The clean delivery and straight-ahead style feels layered on top of, instead of meshed into, Morphology's multifaceted sound.

But despite some heavy-handed synth lines and the occasionally overwrought studio effect, Smith demonstrates a maturing production talent, delivering a lush and energetic experience.


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