An accomplished producer and seasoned DJ, Matt Tolfrey boasts a CV that would make even the most industrious folk in music turn a shade of cerise.
In addition to releases on underground heavyweights such as Crosstown Rebels and Cocoon, Matt has been responsible for the nurturing and consistently brilliant output of no less than 4 labels as part of his Leftroom empire, so it comes as no surprise that his debut artist album took a little while in arriving.
‘Word Of Mouth’ sees Tolfrey adopt a more traditional producers’ role, employing his excellent powers of curation to assemble an array of vocalists and engineers capable of fashioning his idiosyncratic palate into ten polished tracks of chunky house grooves. In Matt’s words, “I cannot play the piano and I am not professionally trained in any way musically, but through years of DJing I know exactly what I like, and I have great tracks in my head that need to get out. While searching the Internet for alternate ideas of making music, I came across some amazing software that enables you to simply sing or hum into a mic, which then translates into midi notes, which you then use as the basis of your tracks. In essence, it means that while I am walking the streets, or away travelling, and I come up with an idea for a bass-line, or a melody, I can simply record it into my phone, return home, and sing it into the computer. In other words, ‘in theory’ the album is mainly going to be written with my mouth, not my fingers, and then fully realised with the help of engineers and guest vocalists – hence the name”
The enveloping ‘Encarta’ provides a promising, reverb-soaked opener, before the album reverts quickly back to more familiar 4×4 territory, Tolfrey’s signature crisp drums and solid bass-lines of previous work providing the template for much of the rest of the record.
This offers a reliably familiar feel, and tracks such as ‘Never Assume’, ‘Downtown’ and ‘The Spooks’, whilst certainly not groundbreaking, are enjoyable and pack enough weight to keep any dancefloor swaying.
At it’s strongest, the album proves testament to his flawless A&R work, exploiting the wealth of an enviable contacts book, most notably in ‘The Truth’ with the ubiquitously influential Marshall Jefferson. Stripped back percussion really allows the rolling bass-line room to breathe as Marshall’s vocal iterates the groove before progressing with purpose into distant close-eyed gratification.
Other collaborations achieve varying success. Ya Kid K, of Technotronic fame, contributes the hypnotic refrain of ‘Turn You Out’ whilst Jem Cooke’s raspy vocal struggles to be as effective on the odd nadir that is ‘Mission To Paradise’. Although punchy kick, aforementioned vocal and incoherent whisperings are all present and accounted for, the polyrhythmic breakdown and estranged synth stabs leave the whole affair feeling a bit house-by-numbers and altogether less satisfying than the sum of the parts.
In fact the only ‘vocal-less’ track, ‘Darkside of the Discoball’ may prove to be the most kinetic of the bunch and will undoubtedly be the pick for trainspotting DJs, alongside the dubbed out and ethereal ‘ Distant Story’.
As a debut goes, there is no lack of polish and refinement on the production side but perhaps not the challenge that some listeners might yearn for.
Still, ‘Not So Little’ wraps up proceedings in style with a sultry jaunt into slower territories; the evolving pads punctuated by a hip-hop referencing broken beat and the caramel tone of serial collaborator Kevin Knapp, leaving an altogether sweeter taste to savour.