Basement Jaxx endures, hits new peaks on 'Junto'

Basement Jaxx, "Junto"

Cover art for Baseman Jaxx's new album "Junto." (Courtesy PIAS/Atlantic Jaxx / August 26, 2014)

Back in the EDM stone ages, when producers carved beats out of boulders, two teams reigned supreme when it came to international house music: Daft Punk and Basement Jaxx.

While commercial EDM in the late 1990s was lapping up the progressive house sounds of Sasha & Digweed and Paul Van Dyke, the helmeted Parisians Daft Punk were working with a minimalism inspired by early Chicago tracks and dropping warning shots like "Da Funk" and "Around the World."

Across the English Channel in Brixton, Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton were upping the stakes with wide-eyed, explosive house jams such as "Bingo Bango," "Red Alert" and "Get Me Off" -- in fact, pretty much everything on Jaxx's classic first two albums, "Remedy" and "Rooty." 

It's hard to believe it's been 15 years, both because those body-belters still sound great and due to Basement Jaxx's return-to-form new album, "Junto." Thirteen songs that strive for peaks as high as a flooded dance-floor rocking "Where's Your Head At" at full volume, "Junto" hits with heated bangers while also stepping away from the steam to cool off.

An album introduced at the outset to "lords, ladies and lowlifes," Basement Jaxx's first album in nearly six years, and seventh overall, opens with a hard tom-tom pound and a catchy conga rhythm, and from there chases bliss in myriad directions. The inspiring opening track "Power to the People," for example, features Jaxx's trademark swing -- augmented by lead vocalist Niara Scarlett, the Ketabul Studio All Stars and a kids choir. 

That Jaxx swing distinguishes them. It's hard to explain what exactly it is, that propellant drive, but it permeates tracks. Whether the team is building rhythms through echoed finger snaps, revisiting weird drum & bass music on the flashback-brilliant "Buffalo" or channeling Caribbean sounds on "Rock This Road," a Jaxx rudder guides songs toward inevitable eruption. It's both a sound and a feeling, a tonal exuberance. The Bollywood-inspired "Mermaid of Salinas" (which opens with a fantastic vocal sample of "Gimme a shimmy-shimmy!") will uplift even the most bummed. 

The intergalactic jam "We Are Not Alone" builds its catchy rhythm from vocal samples and augments it with analog synth tones and orchestral strings. "Sneakin' Toronto," featuring the great Chicago producer DJ Sneak, is all bounce and wobble. (Sneak is best known to Daft Punk fans for his vocals on "Digital Love.) 

The only issue with "Junto" is one of bounty: So much exuberance can be overwhelming when digested in a single sitting. Better to let the record seep in over a number of weeks. Eventually you'll come to realize that the punch of the hypnotic last track, "Love Is at Your Side," is as powerful as the first, and in between is a density that will require many extended dance floor explorations. 

3.5 stars out of four

Basement Jaxx

"Junto"

(PIAS/Atlantic Jaxx)

Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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