The Montreal producer's latest release is built extra lush and cushiony, with heavy R&B inflections.
Jacques Greene makes house music for lovers. His latest release, Phantom Vibrate, is built extra lush and cushiony, inflected with R&B. But Greene has always been meticulous with his implementation of that genre into dance music. Various strands of dance music and R&B have been fraternizing almost forever, though, whether it’s the Aaliyah apparitions made popular by Burial’s “In McDonalds” and Usher’s big box EDM. But in 2014, R&B has become somewhat of a boutique concern in the indiesphere, despite the OGs still knocking it out of the park elsewhere. (See: Toni Braxton and Babyface’s phenomenal collaborative heart tour Love, Marriage, & Divorce, released earlier this year.) The commingling of R&B with indie has been a thing at least since Tom Krell’s bedroom-recording project How to Dress Well gained traction in 2010 and Frank Ocean went further on another track in 2011, and the influence hasn’t left the conversation. But few get the mix right.
Montreal’s Greene has always had a feel for R&B, whether it’s dropping Mya’s “Ponytail” in DJ sets or wistfully reimagining Ciara’s remix of “Deuces” on his track “Another Girl”. With Phantom Vibrate, he’s taken his interest to a delicate new level. The EP’s opener and first single, “No Excuse”, elevates “Favorite Girl” by Marques Houston (of Immature and annoying next-door neighbor Roger from "Sister, Sister"), with Greene taking the overwhelmingly sweet cut and flipping it into a celestial paean by way of crunchy percussion, ascendant synths, and intermittent sweeps of bells.
The emotional swell of “No Excuse”, the A-side, towers over the rest of the release. "Feel What” and “Night Tracking” have a willowy, less emphatic texture than “No Excuse”, but Greene has proven to have a strong grasp on how varied house music can embody the emotional weight of R&B. “Feel What” is a nimble collage of varied tempos, the vocal sample blending into the hodgepodge of skittering, revved, and staticky synths. On paper that sounds like a nightmare drafted on Ableton, but with Greene as the technician, it’s seamlessly meditative. “Night Tracking” is the closest to classic house and the EP’s quietest cut. It almost seems to fight with itself at points, different grooves trying to be the most dominant on the track, intertwining and acquiescing with tranquil aggression before zipping into silence.
Had “No Excuse” been the closer, it would have given the short collection a more substantial climax. Instead, the EP’s downward tonal slope plays out an emotional arc of a blossoming romance into its ultimate dissolution, down to the wielding of vocal samples. What’s clear and unruffled at the beginning becomes absent toward the end. Greene has done robust heartbreak before with last year’s ebulliently elastic “On Your Side” featuring the aforementioned How to Dress Well singing about loving desperation. Even when that song’s lonely lyrics are gutting, the beat never feels vacant. With Phantom Vibrate, Greene breaks it down further, separating feelings into their own parts, narrating with sound how you get from allure to familiarity to the void.