Treee City: The Way | [Maison Fauna; June 18] | ★★★★
As Treee City, the Durham DJ and techno producer Patrick Phelps-McKeown specializes in throwback rave and house music imbued with the immediacy of pop and hip-hop, and he’s been a consistent underground MVP in the city’s nightlife and electronic dance music culture.
After cofounding the Party Illegal dance-party series, he collaborated with the rapper and singer Ace Henderson on the hip-house single “Tidal Wave.” It became the tentpole of Treee’s debut EP, Disco Completo, which was released by the Durham beat-music collective Raund Haus in 2018.
Last year, he showed growth as both a pop producer and a solo artist, furnishing a breezy beat for M8alla’s R&B summer jam, “Mek Mi Anxious,” and landing a driving deep house anthem on Field Guide I, a vinyl compilation curated by Maison Fauna. Last Friday, those upstart Durham dance impresarios dropped Treee’s second EP, The Way, his best bid yet to get spun on the decks he’s been so stalwart behind.
For someone with a Duck Dynasty-worthy beard, Treee keeps his music very close-shaven. He builds tracks from strafing layers of notched rhythms, two-note basses, and one-note pulses, the structures evolving yet unconfused. In “Ancient Grains,” he blends ambient chords into pouncing filter house and dollops it with a starry new wave top melody.
Eventually, that prom-night hook meets a whooping vocal sample in a pocket between sweet and swaggering that’s pure Treee.
“Liquidity” begins on the rugged microhouse terrain of Ricardo Villalobos before expanding a razor-thin timbral and harmonic range into a wide vista, the bass dipping lower and fuller, the mainspring arpeggio wasting away and surging back stronger. Then a filthy bass cinches the groove so it’s ready to be field-stripped and strewn across stereo space.
“Mindsweeper’’ pulls the EP back to its most hectic and contained level, scudding by in a metallic skirl of tonality and glassy rave chords, before “Empty Hand” expands it to its most capacious. Shaker percussion, toy-xylophone lullabies, delay-kissed synth chords, a soul bass line, a late-breaking G-funk hook, and more gather into an organic dub-techno dream that closes that closes Treee’s mini-opus on a note of limitless possibility.
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