Dance Spirit are Christopher Mohn and Reagan Denius, two Californian producers with a taste for dreamy and transcendent approaches to minimalistic, loopy house music. 2014 saw the duo gain traction with a handful of releases on Mr. C's Superfreq label and an EP on Supernature, which came with a captivating remix from Fred P. Now, they're hurtling into 2015 with the launch of debut album The Sun Also Rises. It's a collection of twelve tracks recorded on a string of blurry Sunday mornings in late 2012 / early 2013 in a studio just off Venice Beach. Unsurprisingly, the low-slung and stoned sounds from these sessions capture the warmth and sun-kissed vibes of early-morning Los Angeles. But there's an ambition to the record that is masked behind its easy-going veneer. The duo's penchant for live instrumentation over programmed beats and a compositional approach that repeatedly sees the album veer from conventional 4/4 territory, singles Mohn and Denius out as producers with aspirations beyond making just an album of sunny house music.
The album announces itself with the jazzy percussion and soft piano keys of vocal track 'The Sun Also Rises'. It's an immersive opening, drawing the listener into the album's capacious and off-kilter tones, but also draws attention to the record's single greatest flaw: its lyrical content. Too often the album leans on trite clichés - "The beauty in your heart is the sadness in your eyes" being the offending refrain in the opening track - and jarring the listener from the otherwise captivating compositions. There are exceptions of course, Shawni's two turns on the smouldering deep house tracks 'Undressed' and 'Silent Words' are wonderful, for instance. Thankfully, if the opening number is a mixture of the good, the bad and the clichéd, the album rights itself with second track 'Outside Looking In'. A gently climbing jam that opens with echoing chords and metronomes, it wears its Pink Floyd influences on its sleeve and marks out the pair as doing something outside the usual parameters.
The first half of the album establishes a charming meandering quality that gradually evolves into something a little more taut, with tracks such as 'Beauty and Sadness' and 'Undressed' taking the record into more quantised and techier (yet still dreamy) territory. Yet, the album's trajectory is anything but linear and predictable. 'Where You Want To Be' arrives unannounced and out of the blue, a charming soft-hued pop number featuring the vocals of Nikko Gibler and again harking back to the duo's psychedelic influences. The song is followed by a string of slow-mo house tracks 'Lamentation', 'Shine Inside' and 'Departed', and which mine the fertile middle-ground between music for clubs and home-listening.
'Lucid Love' is not only the album's conclusion, but the longest track and one of its more upbeat moments. Its deep whirrs, clanking percussion and syrupy synths provide a stripped back soundscape for male vocals singing of heartbreak to take centre stage. It's far from the album's finest moment - more toe-curling lyrics about broken hearts - and makes for a slightly strange choice of conclusion.
Yet, this complaint aside, it's difficult not to come away from The Sun Also Rises with the sense that you have listened to a very accomplished debut album. The breadth of instrumentation, the compositional experimentation, the ambitions and idea informing it, and its sheer size (the album runs to 78 minutes) all contribute to a sense of weightiness and significance that will no doubt make the record quite the calling card for the unknown pair. Moreover, its release could not be timelier. With warmer days (surely) just around the corner, I can already hear this soundtracking long drives out to the beach.