Ransom Notes To God


Both Edwards and Akufen (né Marc Leclair) make house music from dippled ‘n’ dappled microsamples, creating collages from dozens of sources per track: concatenated horn bursts, a quarter of an inhaled breath, half an mmmm, dewdrop keys, clicky stuff, glorious syllable-splashes, instrumental Alka Seltzer fizz, hybrid micro-melodies, vowel needlepoint. There are differences, though, not the least of which is that Edwards has been doing it for an entire decade. Also: Todd Edwards is a genius; Akufen is not.

I’m referring here to some sense of the ineffable—the artist as medium, inspiration not craftsmanship. Edwards’s tracks are meticulously constructed, while Akufen’s are largely the result of happy accident (he flips the dial on a handful of radios, records the results, finds parts with the most funked-up internal logic, constructing tracks around them). Edwards’s music is clearly the product of a man touched by some otherworldly force—what he himself would undoubtedly call God. The man is a fervent, fervent believer. Early records were credited to names like the Messenger and the Sample Choir; headlining Centro-Fly’s Pinky Room last summer to an audience so stunned it took them half an hour to start moving to his trapper-snap hi-hats, he wore a “God Is a DJ” T-shirt and beamed like an idiot savant sent down to do the Creator’s work. Full On Volume 1, a 2001 compendium of his work for New Jersey’s i! Records, opens with the title hook from the disc-ending “God Will Be There”; soon, Edwards’s vocodered voice kicks the chair out from under you: “You saved my life! You saved my life. YOU SAVED MY LIFE!” The title? “Savior Tonight.”

Anyone who’s heard “Face 2 Face” on Daft Punk’s Discovery, which Edwards co-produced and sang (w/o f/x, how cute), has an idea what his songs sound like. So does anyone who’s ever heard 2step garage—Edwards’s offspring the way that, say, the Ohio Players are James Brown’s. His obsessive focus on aural minutiae and its penchant for cut-up vocal phrases is also echoed in the recent club strain “microhouse.”

And when Akufen starts channel surfing, forget it. Put his sound-shards next to Edwards’s and they sound even more like a parlor trick. There’s no devotional referent, no drivenness, no sense that what he’s doing matters to him the way it does to Edwards. This isn’t to say Akufen’s version of the sound lacks character. Even “Heaven Can Wait,” My Way‘s most blatant Edwards rip (there’s the same gospel feel as a Todd track like “Sweet Jesus,” while a recurring harmonica works as a subliminal reference to his classic remix of St. Germain’s “Alabama Blues”) is far more brittle than anything Edwards has done. “Jeep Sex,” “Deck the House,” “Wet Floors,” and (oh the blasphemy) “In Dog We Trust” find plenty of original wrinkles. But it’s hard to imagine them saving anyone’s life.

Judging from Edwards’s new Full On Volume 2, though, it’s just as difficult to believe Edwards will ever make an album as accessible—and maybe as good—as My Way. Akufen could teach Edwards a few things about pacing. My Way‘s triad of creeping microhouse numbers, reminiscent of the German label Kompakt, are each a little less pacific-stately than the last. They provide a launching pad; nicked airwave bits in the third song, “Skidoos,” set us up for spluttering soundscapes to come. Later, the chiming, hovering “Late Night Munchies” prepares us for landing, and the glowing pulse of “My Way” brings us back to earth, with seemingly every sound-flurry we’ve already heard racing back out for a slaphappy encore. Akufen may not have a single new idea, but he presents his findings in a user-friendly arc not far from how a DJ set (or concept album) is supposed to work.

He also seems less likely to keep making the same record over and over than Edwards. You can recognize any Todd 12-inch instantly, but that sameness can grow wearying. Full On Volume 2 does demonstrate a grand and corny way with hooks, whether with vocal phrases or instrumental (the Middle Eastern flute in “Never Leave”). If Brian Wilson wrote teenage symphonies to God, Todd Edwards writes thank-you letters disguised as ransom notes. The vocal hooks often sound the way they’d look were each word written in a different font: “You are beautiful-doo-doo-doo-doo, you’re the one!” Bless him for sticking to his guns and inspiring disciples. But genius or no genius, unless you’re already acclimated and/or in the mood, hearing him for an hour straight can be like eating an entire cheesecake alone.

Akufen performs at APT, April 29.