Review: Theo Parrish “American Intelligence”

In 2008, while entering Mighty, a dance music venue here in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to pay a compliment and chat with techno/house artist Theo Parrish before he performed a DJ set later that evening. He told me that when he gets the chance, he likes to show up a bit early before a gig to see what the crowd is like. Composer Duke Ellington also did this during his performing career. By merely glancing at the ladies’ shoes, Ellington had an idea of what type of crowd to expect. On this San Francisco eve, Parrish remarked that many of the ladies were wearing sneakers or “trainers,” indicating that people came to dance and be present. Not stand.

American Intelligence, a 15-track CD/ triple-pack gatefold LP released on Parrish’s Sound Signature label,  finds once again that Theo Parrish is keeping electronic music fans and artists honest about where dance music came from.

Underground discos that serve drinks in red cups. Sweaty basements. Loft parties. Roller-skating rinks. Outdoor basketball courts–with no nets. BBQs in the park. Community-based environments, where in some cases it takes great risk to actually find and then enter the location. So the actual reward of the music and shared experience is cherished, and not instantaneously captured on a cell phone for a social media check-in. These were, and still are, places that require the listener/participant to be present and in the moment so you can actually experience/feel/think/ get slapped in the head or knocked on your ass by what is taking place.

Because Theo Parrish songs are not simple…

Selections on this album such as “Tympanic Warfare,” “Cypher Delight,” “Lifespice,” and “They’re Here” all keep a strong foothold in the origin of house and techno. They take time to build, breathe, and resonate. The trajectory of Parrish’s soundscape can take your breath away, like viewing a Jean-Michel Basquiat or Keith Haring piece for the first time, like seeing the Empire State Building. Intricate detail, personal commentary, moody emotions, and the consistent drive to push for something different are components that always lay beneath or above the surface. That distinct artistic vision is why Parrish records gain value over time. Just go on eBay and see how his series of white label “Ugly Edits,” released over 10 years ago, are still coveted, bickered over, and bootlegged to this day.

The standout on American Intelligence, “Be In Yo Self,”  is a 13-minute composition that starts with just hand claps, humming, and foot stomps. All the while, the title of the song is beautifully sung by the artist Ideeyah. It slowly builds and adds on layers of Fender Rhodes keyboard, guitars, and soul-stirring bass tones that hypnotize you to sway and testify. All the while, the groove is loose, slumped, and yet still in the pocket.

It takes you back to that sweaty basement.

American Intelligence
Theo Parrish
Sound Signature