Album Review: Document by Ryan Elliott, Playing Electric Pickle on May 21

Like many of you, I had the immense pleasure of hearing Ryan Elliott spin at White Room last May, and witnessed a DJ at the peak of his powers. The Spectral Sound label man crafts truly spellbinding live sets that are dually physical and mental -- "body music for the mind," as his Ghostly International partner Matthew Dear puts it. I recall some moments in that set when the crowd seemed completely possessed, undulating in mass to the jacking low-end and angelically pristine higher frequencies he was banging out. It was one of those "eureka" moments when you see so clearly what differentiates an exceptional DJ from most of the dime-a-dozen ones you hear every weekend.

Eliott's new Spectral compilation, however, seems to lack some of the rapturous quality of his live sets, and disappointingly was not even mixed, but rather presented as individual tracks.

Document is a reckoning of the Michigan sound in the new decade, and, as such, it's redolent of Detroit's stark and unsentimental EDM aesthetic--although with that said, there are a few glimpses of soulfulness in this record. One such instance is a saccharine piece called "She Only Looks At You" by Gadi Mizrahi, coming as no surprise from the Wolf + Lamb producer whose work is typically characterized by an almost gospel-tinged soul sensibility. Carried by ethereal synth swashes and a soothing ambiance, this is a fine afterhours come-down record.

In typical Audion fashion, "Just Me" presents some interesting idiosyncratic forms and textures, but this particular track doesn't feel very compelling, and for clocking in at over 8 minutes, doesn't really go anywhere. "Zhivago" by Kate Simko likewise feels tedious in its insistent minimal groove, and given some of her more recent vocal melodic forays, feels stylistically outdated--stuck in the minimal techno vogue of the mid-2000s. The Martinez "Dark Soul" remix of "Hurt" by Seth Troxler featuring Matthew Dear adds some much-needed punch to the original, turning it into a functional albeit murky dancefloor number via quasi-Latin rhythms.

Now, what are the standout tracks? "I'm Holding On" by Bodycode featuring Lerato is a quirky homage to that early-'90s jacking house sound that's made a delightful recent come-back. "On Time" by James T. Cotton is vintage Detroit techno with a seductive vocal hook and gratuitous chunky 808 claps that induces some serious body shaking. Last and certainly not least is Ryan Crosson's "Don't Look Further," fluid yet funky tech-house, and pretty much the only real club banger from the lot.

Ryan Elliott will be playing alongside beloved DJ/producer Lee Foss and PL0T residents on Friday, May 21. Please don't let this slightly critical review dissuade you from the fact that he is sure to blow the roof off the place, this performance is not to be missed!

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Sean Levisman

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