Music Reviews
Stay / True

Fort Romeau Stay / True

(Ghostly) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

The metaphor of London as a labyrinth is an old one. The twisting streets twisting onto other twisting streets, the parks placed at odd intersections, the buildings with all of their windows as eyes, and how it all just keeps going on, led Jorge Luis Borges - a writer of fabricated, appropriated, textual labyrinths - to begin a poem with "In these red labyrinths of London," only to continue his poetic rumination on subjects such as memory and how objects (such as stories, and also music) are interpretations of our corporeality. Borges's idea is a good starting point to describe London house producer Fort Romeau's newest album, Stay / True, a successful EP that I quite like, not for its bravery of extending the territory that house music can go, but for its classic embodiment of what house is.

On Stay / True, song structures are typical, the songs are long, and they satisfy. So then, what's the difference between this and say, something released in Chicago or Detroit, circa 1991? It's easy: the words. Words used in house today are taking on the similar characteristic of being unpronounceable: they are constructed on the syllable level rather than the word level. Any house track back in the old days - say, twenty years ago - was easily singable if peppered with a vocal hook. You could hear the words, mouth them while you danced, take a sip of your gin and tonic, give your partner a seductive stare in the eyes, and get lost again in the sweaty air, the bodies, and the repetition (of course, many of these vocal hooks were simple messages about the desire of freedom from capitalist suppression or freedom from the stresses of love.) Following along with a tradition started, in my opinion, with Garage and 2-step music in the 90s (and recontextualized into Dubstep and House in the 00s, most successfully in the former in Burial's music), the words on Stay / True are barely decipherable, barely lipped over the watery echoes that drown them in the unnameable. This trend of unpronounciation (Holy Other is another producer who also works on a syllable level) is interesting, because it says something about today's hyper-electronic, digitized world, where words are everywhere: on labels, on bikes, on beers, on the radio; on our bodies (in the form of tattoos), on the sides of things, the tops of things, the backs of things; on paper, on plastic, on cardboard; on silverware, on walls (in the form of graffiti), on signs, buildings, and even on cellular data (when used by scientists). Fort Romeau's music asks the listener: why does house need language signifiers when it has lost its biggest signifier, the dancefloor? Or, to look at the question in a different way, why did house lose its language signifiers, and what does that loss say about the atmosphere in which they disappeared?

There's also another question looming ahead: where are we more without language than in the world of our bedrooms (the neo-dancefloor), with the door closed, the lights on, the curtains drawn, exhaling the night with a glass of water on our night tables, relieved of our hunger, and aware of the inside worlds we cultivate online and in the objects we have? No matter how drunk or chemically induced we are at a club, we always need to go back home, to our rooms, to our various-sized bedrooms with various-sized windows and objects, like nice rugs, maybe some carpets, a ceiling fan, toys, records, books, and always, most importantly a bed, whether it be of water, polyester, a bunch of Mexican blankets, a mat of hay, or viscoelastic memory foam. We go back to beds, even in music. Stay / True, as well as Fort Romeau's previous releases, sounds more like an urban form of the lullaby, a kind of modern berceuse befitting the non-syllabic environment of dreams. Of course, when we dream, we often dream in languages we don't know, or neo-languages we don't recognize, if there is any language at all, or any sound beyond guttural utterances. That's why it's befitting to call his music a dreamy interpretation not only of house, but also of dreams. The bedroom, is, of course, a component of a house (here the house/house divide becomes strange in its shared language-space) and we dream in our bedrooms. Which is to say that dreams are private things, and that we escape in them when mesmerized in the dazzling repetition of music, especially of house music, of Stay / True, which will bring us all back to the essence of beat-driven wordlessness, which is part of Fort Romeau's melodic forte.