That anyone who casually follows New York electronic music knows the name Morgan Geist is a huge testament to the man’s talent: The Environ Records founder has released just two solo albums in 10 years, opting to work mainly behind the scenes as a DJ, remixer, and producer. As much as any single person, though, he’s responsible for this decade’s embrace of disco.
Whereas the work for which Geist is probably best known, his 2002 collaboration with Darshan Jesrani and Kelley Polar under the alias Metro Area, was hard-hitting, elemental, and exuberant, his new Double Night Time is a relatively introspective affair. It’s also more satisfying as headphone fodder, thanks largely to a phalanx of synthesizers (burbling arpeggios cushion most tracks) and vocals from Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys, who sounds less chilly than usual here amid scads of high-gloss synth hooks. But the mood is rarely lighthearted. On tracks like “Ruthless City,” which drags house’s telltale jazzy chords down to codeine speed, craftsmanship undercuts playfulness undercuts melancholy.
The album appropriates well-worn sonic ideas of the city (including the fantastical palettes of Giorgio Moroder and Digital Emotion) and makes them speak to the class-muddled mindfuck of New York’s latest (and now-waning) Gilded Age. But to call Geist’s music “retro” kinda misses the point. Early disco’s sonic vision of the future no better describes contemporary urban life than does Manhattan’s obscenely wealthy façade. Which is to say, I don’t think this reconsideration of disco we’re seeing is any accident—of course a music so apt at speaking to the void between appearance and reality would surge during some of the most inegalitarian years in national history.
Morgan Geist plays Santos’ Party House October 15.