DJ Q - Ineffable review

Available on: Local Action

Perhaps the moment that best encapsulates DJ Q’s much-belated debut artist album Ineffable comes just over a minute into its closer, ‘Be Mine’. “I’m down to give my all,” declares singer Kai Ryder, lightly but with utter certainty – and the song launches into a glorious melodic hook that jerks inwards and outwards, spiralling in dizzying circles. It’s entirely composed of cut-up vocals: Q articulates Ryder’s joy by fragmenting her words.

The cut-up vocal is, of course, a UK garage signifier of long standing – and, with nostalgia for turn-of-the-century 2-step in full effect, one that’s been much overused in recent years. Q, though, doesn’t use it as merely an empty signifier or trend-hopping trick; in his hands, it’s a fully integrated means to tell the story of the song. On ‘Be Mine’, it conveys a sense of joy so great that words are insufficient; halfway through ‘Notice Me’, the narrative is handed over to cut-ups with no warning, as if its anonymous singer, having exhausted a strategy of pleading for attention, has abruptly switched tactics to something a bit more show-offy. And Ineffable‘s opener, ‘Get Over You’, is told entirely via cut-ups, a wistful four-note piano motif and a bassline drop.

Such intuitive understanding of how sonic tools work is entirely expected: in recent years, Q’s 1Xtra sets have sustained his cult following, and his own material reflects the skillset of a master DJ. And while Ineffable may be DJ Q’s debut album, he’s been a key figure in British dance for over half a decade. The bassline scene burned brightly but briefly in 2007-08, and Q’s contributions – a stellar remix of Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Flex’ and the nearly-hit ‘You Wot!’ – remain among its pinnacles. His wonderfully-named side project with DJ Haus, Trumpet & Badman, provided a rougher take on the British house revival, with ‘Love Keeps Changing’ one of last year’s finest singles. Consequently, Q has slightly more at his disposal than more one-note johnny-come-latelys, the experience to keep things simple when necessary – and the confidence not to shy away from the pop pleasure receptors that so many in the British underground seem terrified of.

At its best, Ineffable captures dancefloor joy effortlessly. The ebullient ‘Let The Music Play’ has a title that nods to Latin freestyle and a synth guitar that nods to French house, and spiritually is in the lineage of those anthems by Shannon and Stardust: the blissful relief that sinking into club music provides should be a basic tenet, but reminders of how transcendent it is never go amiss. Regular Q vocal collaborator Louise Williams is the perfect singer for this, a sweetly sincere Everygirl who you could only ever imagine in the centre of the dancefloor, never skulking round the edges. Even when she later declares her loss of faith in humanity forever on ‘Trust Again’, it sounds like a liberation. Williams and Q both peak on Ineffable‘s masterful centrepiece, the emotionally cleansing ‘Through The Night’, on which Williams achieves a breathtaking state of grace.

Conventional wisdom tends to hold that the dance album has to involve some sort of trade-off away from the dancefloor for home listening. Ineffable succeeds as an album qua album – not on those terms (why should listening at home preclude dancing?) but simply in terms of being as tight and coherent a set as any of Q’s radio programmes. The garage-pop effervescence of ‘Through The Night’ and ‘Let The Music Play’ is offset by the more languid, Guido-esque ‘Caught Up’; straight 2-step throwback beats are leavened by crisp house and drum’n’bass rhythms, preventing Ineffable from ever seeming like an exercise in nostalgia. Only the token boys of ‘Lassie’ jar: Discarda barrelling in with blokey clumsiness feels like the beery drunk stumbling into your dancing circle: well-intentioned and friendly maybe, but preferable elsewhere.

Ineffable’s title derives from a fan thread on a music messageboard – it’s illustrative of Q’s generosity that he blessed that thread with exclusive mixes as a token of appreciation for its support. It’s a word that initially seems oddly high-flown for his music, though not after listening to ‘Through The Night’. In Q’s hands, Ineffable is unfuckwithable.

Local Action is a label run independently by FACT staff member Tom Lea.

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