Chicago DJ brings the house, and the controversy…
John Seroff: Lyrical, enticing and carefully paced, “He Is the Voice I Hear” is densely packed with live instrumentation and deeply considered house beats. There’s a gentleness and a fire at play; an ecstatic exuberance at the level of Levan. The Black Madonna has captured the spirit of the modern moment without words, offering disco as a stand-in for the phoenix both dying and reborn. It’s pretty much the best thing this year’s yet had to offer; here’s hoping that “Voice” is the beginning of a grander manifesto ahead.
Maxwell Cavaseno: If I wanted a parade of “proper” house/techno, there are a bunch of Ron Hardy mixes on YouTube. The last thing I need is to be lectured by 10 minutes of self-important tribute to things originally done not in reverence of what’d been left behind, but in searching to find a now and a future.
Alfred Soto: This hybrid of New Romantic fodderstompf and Jacques Morali kitsch has a promising start but is never quite fast enough or schlocky enough to tell the keyboardist to shut the fuck up.
Thomas Inskeep: Elegant, classy, 10 minutes long, piano-based: this is what I want my house music to sound like.
Iain Mew: It’s got as careful and anticipation-forming a buildup as I would hope for when it takes seven minutes, with nice use of strings. When it turns out that what it was building up to was just some mannered piano tinkling, though, it feels like a practical joke at the listener’s expense.
Katie Gill: Look, I love this. That jazzy opening leading right into some sort of pseudo-disco DJ nonsense is my jam. I am all for a reoccurrence of the 1970s, especially if it’s disco, which has been unfairly shat upon for far too long. But 10 minutes is waaaaay too long, especially when repetition is heavily featured throughout the song. I’m sure this is marvelous as a DJ experience, but as a single, it’s tiring.
Joshua Copperman: I’d definitely listen to that piano intro for 10+ minutes, but I’m cool with the rest of the song too. The best part for me was the violin riff halfway through, the kind of sample that could back an entirely different piece of music. (Davide Rossi also contributed the strings for Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, which 1. explains why that hook is so catchy and 2. is amusing, considering Coldplay wouldn’t even make its hidden tracks 10 minutes long.) This culminates in a section when all the parts join together around 6:00. The only part that doesn’t quite work for me is the piano solo at the end, but the fact that it can hold attention purely as a listening experience is impressive.
Ryo Miyauchi: Perhaps because of other artists in her city taking it back to church last year, the “He” of the title strikes me as a religious calling as The Black Madonna aims for transcendence throughout her track’s grand 10-minute length. Her patience with the music hinders it from reaching the rapture of the Chicago classics to which she pays homage. But that piano sweep is so gorgeous, you can’t help but to try to touch the sky.
Crystal Leww: The Black Madonna cleaned up on dance publication year-ends last year, a welcome sign that dance music was finally starting to embrace someone who didn’t look exactly like a deadmau5 type. So much about what’s made The Black Madonna a compelling story is Marea herself — a vocal feminist in the world of dark, sweaty rooms dominated by dudes who have grown to prioritize technicality over feeling. The Black Madonna is a technical whiz, sure, but to boil down her rise to “Hey, here’s a chick who proves she really can really spin!” is to do her a disservice. The Black Madonna cut her teeth in the dance scene in Chicago, grinding it out while still refusing to give up the heart and soul of dance in the city that built house music. She is open about how central God is to her work. I saw The Black Madonna play on Saturday night, and what struck me the most was the energy of the room. There is a joy she has behind the decks that few have, an atmosphere that she creates. I saw old ravers go wild. I saw a Swiss dude who said he loved deep house go wild at the legendary Chicago club Smart Bar for the first time. I saw young folks who looked like they were at their first house music show. I’ve not been religious in a long time, and it’s such a wild cliche, but that tiny little room at Smart Bar felt spiritual to me. I get why someone would make God and music intertwine; sometimes, the only thing I can believe in is the thump of the club.