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john roberts - Fences
John Roberts made a big impression with his last album for Dial, Glass Eights, and he's done himself proud on this refined, impressionistic follow-up, resisting as he has the deep house soft option in favour of weirder rhythmic arrangements and a well-defined, evidently very personal palette of post-modern chamber instrumentation and field recordings. Unlike, say, Pantha Du Prince, JR mostly favours subtlety and interiority over grandiloquence; there are no explosions of melody, the prettiness of each track is only gradually, almost shyly, disclosed - not least on gleaming highlight 'Mussels', a curious sort of avant-dub confection that manages to invoke 23 Skidoo, Kode9, Autechre, Sakamoto and Soft Machine all at once. 'Shoes' reclaims halfstep from the rudeboys, dressing it with dreamy keyboard improvisations and yearning, heat-soured synth tones; 'Calico' too is one for the sensitive steppers, its coiled breakbeats constantly threatening to bust out into proper 'ardkore tekno but (of course) pulling back at the last. 'Palace' and the title track are the sole concessions to straight-ahead 4/4 but even they seem to be governed by more complex internal mechanisms; special mention also to the woolly but rousing jazz-wise progression of 'Blanket' and the near-hauntological drift of 'Braids'.