Top 20 Labels of 2010 poll. But by its very consistency, the label has made it easy for techno and electronic-house fans to simply presume that the Damian Lazarus-run label will continue to crank out the goods. As luck would have it, those people are probably right; among other Crosstown goodies lined up for 2011, albums from the likes of Jamie Jones, Deniz Kurtel and Art Department are in the pipeline. And the label is kicking the year off with a stunner in the form of Life Index, a sumptuous house long-player from Maceo Plex, the veteran producer Eric Estornel's latest nom de musique.
Estornel's probably best known for his work as Maetrik, the pseudonym he uses for heavy, cavernous, occasionally ominous techno that would likely fit right in on the soundtrack of some particularly dark and esoteric sci-fi flick. There's little gloominess to be found on Life Index, though; the album is devoted to the relatively simple pleasures of straight-up house. While it may be more immediately pleasing and easier to get one's head around than the average Maetrik track, it's not exactly Top 40 material either, as Estornel's slow-burn version of house is rubbery, super deep and, very often, beautiful. It's also steeped in something else—soul.
That soul occasionally shows itself in self-evident fashion; "Vibe Your Love," for example, is more or less an elegant cover version of Stevie Wonder's "For Your Love" (complete with full lyrics), its emotive piano chords punctuated by odd, ascending bursts of what sounds like heavily treated vocal snippets. Elsewhere, the soul is implied: The chugging "Sleazy E" layers congas and a gorgeous, Eastern-tinged synth line over its funky-ass "Billie Jean"-style bassline, for instance, while the elegiac "Love You Mama" transforms from pastoral techno into a deep disco-funk groover. (Rather charmingly—and a bit bizarrely—that track also boasts a vocal steal from the 1970 AM-gold classic "Precious and Few" by Climax.) "Silo" adds staccato horn bursts to the template; "You & Me" overlays its strutting throb with a Detroit-esque chord progression right out of the Kevin Saunderson playbook; the otherworldly "Arise" ventures into lightly acidic, deep-bleep territory.
The set reaches its finale with "Bring It Back," a beautiful sigh of a cut, only slightly marred by the hackneyed "Detroit, bring it back / Chicago, bring it back" spoken-word lyrics. Truth be told, though, it's hard to argue with the sentiment; it's a heartfelt moment in an album brimming with them. As a bonus, the album is wonderfully recorded—every element is crystal clear, yet warm, thick and rounded throughout—and will undoubtedly sound great heaving through the speakers of a top-tier sound system.