Root Rot sounds like a disease trees get. Like Dutch Elm, but potentially more damaging. Why London electronic boffin Marc Ashken thought this was a snappy title for one the sublime lead vocal cut from his new album Have You Seen My Dancing Shoes?, I don't know, but he did.
And despite the initial "eh, what? " reaction, you find yourself nodding along thinking, actually, it works. Why? Because when Ashken says his influences include Luciano and BB King, Villalobos and Muddy Waters, Richie Hawtin and John Lee Hooker, his music backs it up; beginning with the aforementioned Root Rot, a slab of blues-soaked minimal techno that is as painfully addictive as a crack habit, and twice as satisfying. Impressively, the spooky/poignant layered vocals on Root Rot – like the others on the album – are Ashken himself. He also played all the instruments and did his own engineering and programming, which bespeaks a laudable level of perfectionism.
There is a definite loud-quiet-loud pattern running through the album. If it's suggestive, grooving techno workouts you crave simply skim through the even numbered tracks: Empty Room, a sultry bubbling cauldron of electronic swagger. Root Rot; Loaf, a gourd-rattling minimal cut; the huge, stomping piano chords of Still Searching; choppy, infinitely danceable funk on Cup Cake and the gravely old-school vocal of 248 Pieces In A Puzzle. The effect is, somewhat disconcertingly, of being tapped on the shoulder every six minutes by someone saying, "listen now !" But the longer you let the music percolate in your head the more the "filler" tracks begin to sound like entities in their own right.
A couple are frankly extraneous. Mynde is too long by half and sounds and feels exactly like padding (well-produced padding, but still…). 11.08AM is equally forgettable, though Ashken deserves kudos for the apropos sound effect of a man yawning and snoring over the paint-by-numbers techno background. These little aberrations are mere editing errors, they don't take anything away from the overall impact of the album. Because, despite the fairly predictable pattern of the album, the music works. There is real soul here, in spades, and shot through with standout tunes like the so-tasty-you-want-to-lick-it-up-like-ice-cream Words Find Meaning, which is five and a half of the happiest, wonkiest, most insidiously funky minutes you'll ever spend on a dancefloor (or waltzing around your living room).Considering Ashken's entire output so far consists of a handful of singles and EPs for the likes of Safari Electronique and Leftroom, Have You Seen My Dancing Shoes? is a hell of a calling card. Arriving, as it does, in time to make an eleventh-hour play for all those album-of-the-year lists HYSMDS? is enough to leave all those producers who released really good albums say, six months ago, clapping their foreheads in despair saying "shit! Why didn't I think of that? "