Dave Aju's Heirlooms was one of my favourite albums of 2012 and therefore the follow up, Black Frames, was very welcome upon arriving in my inbox.
This new album comes amidst some personal turmoil for Aju... Since his last full-length release he has gone through the break-up of a long-term relationship and moved away from his home city of San Francisco. The title of Black Frames is taken from both the picture frames that house the 60s and 70s artwork in Aju's studio together with a reference to the place where breaking a sweat and breaking the rules both come together.
The album that ensues is lean and tight in comparison to Heirlooms. There are just nine tracks here and whilst the album still clocks in at almost an hour long a lot of the loose funkiness of the last album is gone. In its place is a comparatively stripped back and focused set of techno influenced house tracks. This is still unmistakably Dave Aju... there is still a lot of funk here, it is just buried considerably deeper than it was on his last album. Much as Matthew Dear has crafted several albums out of a sound that skirts pop and techno with intelligence, Aju does something similar here... Creating an album that is almost exclusively deeper and more minimal than the last, but still boasts a confidence and approachability that beguiles Black Frames' relatively heavy nature.
The resulting album takes a little longer to worm its way into your head, but still has some standout moments. Race On Haight opens the album with a slinky and soulful jazzy sound, gentle piano keys tinkle as if hiding nervously behind Aju's big deep voice amidst smoky instrumentation, one of Black Frames' rare slower moments. Nu Threads is a jacking house track built around a big bass line and Aju's vocals whilst Clean St is one of the album's highlights, a similarly jacking track that builds over nine-minutes.
Nobody Knows uses vocal manipulation to create rhythms out of Aju's repeated refrain "Where we get our shit together" and contrasting them against layered melodic vocals. Psylica hints at the personal strife this album was born of, an eight-minute throbbing bass epic that culminates in a vocal duet, both parties informing the other "My love can you see we are stuck between a rock and me / you", seemingly persistent, immovable and misunderstood...
It is clear Dave Aju has poured himself into Black Frame - the depth of the subject matter and the style and finesse evident in the album's production is evident. If it isn't as instantly gratifying as Heirlooms it will certainly reward those with the appetite and patience to explore electronic music with soul and brains.