Boomkat Product Review:
Dark Entries continues its archeological excavation of San Francisco hi-NRG/mutant disco innovator Patrick Cowley's archive with this nauseatingly funky set of previously unreleased bangers>> properly zonked cyber disco that's a million miles from the sanitized fluff that's got its claws in the global pop charts at the minute.
When you hear the word "disco", what comes to mind exactly? By now, the sound has been reduced to a gentle, clipped kick-snare to back TikTok-lubricated hits from Dua Lipa or Doja Cat - music that's a direct relative of later-period cannibalized global pop breakouts from ABBA and the Bee Gees. Initially disco was bubbling from a deeper, darker place - in its early days, the sound was characterized by eroticism, 'ludes, drum machines and acidic synthesizers; whether it was in Philadephia, NYC or San Francisco, it was this sweaty, chaotic energy that was so alluring it's been referenced for decades since. Patrick Cowley was one of disco's most important innovators, and when he died in 1982 of complications from HIV/AIDS, he left behind a remarkable archive of music that's still being unravelled.
San Francisco's Dark Entries has been working with Cowley's friends and family since 2009, making sure that the influential producer's material wasn't lost to history. Best known as the synthesizer wizard for Sylvester, Cowley had a lesser-known hustle crafting sleazy experimental soundtracks to gay porn movies, some of which was collected on 2013's "School Daze" 2015's "Muscle Up" and 2017's "Afternooners". "Malebox" is a slightly different prospect; a supple set of space funk pulled from Cowley's vast set of unreleased material focusing on his gritty hi-NRG sound - the kind of erotically-charged material that lit the fuse for music like the Pet Shop Boys and New Order on the other side of the Atlantic.
It's refreshing to hear a suite of disco that's almost an antidote to its watered down 2020s simulacra. Recording between 1979 and 1981, Cowley was able to visualize where the genre was headed and travel down another path entirely. And from the first few moments of 'If You Feel It', it's clear exactly what his destination was: spidery synth sequences, pounding drums, metallic guitar licks and psychedelic oscillations give the music a flickering sensuality that speaks to the era's preferred platter of chemical enhancements. 'Floating' meanwhile is a dose of pure euphoria, the kind of sparkly, hip-flexing loose groove that would become the backbone of the French touch movement decades later.
Jeanie Tracy shows up on 'Low Down Dirty Rhythm' to lay down a tantalizingly brittle demo (the final version was re-recorded by Sarah Dash), belting her words over Cowley's lush psychedelia. What starts as slow motion, neon-flicker'd disco pop eventually sinks into painterly electronics, with Cowley jamming razor-sharp lead tails over bubbling ring modulations and driving rhythms. Tight but refreshingly open-ended, its music that betrays Cowley's outsized creativity - he was an artist who was as much motivated by the West Coast's hedonistic gay parties as he was E-MU and Serge modular systems. "Malebox" is unmissable gear - somewhere between Wendy Carlos, Arthur Russell and Donna Summer.