Album review: Hifi Sean – Ft.

John Preston

The featured guest vocalists Hifi Sean has collected together act as a kind of clubland superstar ensemble – including some of the most idiosyncratic, visionary and talented artists from the last four decades or so. Bootsy Collins, Yoko Ono, Crystal Waters, Paris Grey, Fred Schneider and Billie Ray Martin are some of the glittering and peerless names that each perform a song apiece from the album’s track-list. Although Hifi Sean (AKA DJ and ex The Soup Dragon’s vocalist Sean Dickson) may choose to remain faceless on his own album cover, it’s his ability as a curator for this troupe of radical and revolutionary voices that makes Ft. such a coherent journey through clubland’s essential influences.

Crystal Waters was one of several house-music singers that had massive hits in the early 90s working predominantly with Baltimore producers The Basement Boys. Waters fittingly enough opens Ft. as a established artist who is still immediately recognisable and missed. ‘Testify’ showcases her unique vocals which are set against a clapping and stomping, gospel-house soundstage. It’s a tremendous opening, instant and euphoric, and the only criticism is that the song abruptly fades out around the 03:30 mark when it was surely made for an extended mix.

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Paris Grey, better known as the lead singer of Inner City and the endlessly sampled songs ‘Good Life’ and ‘Big Fun’, sounds fresh with the airy garage house song ‘Lost Without You’. Dickson cannot resist dropping in a few of those stabbing synth chords which take us all the way back to 1988 with fluid song-writing that is strongly structured and built to last.

Big vocals are also in order for the sublime and moody ‘Heavy Game’. Billie Ray Martin whispers the middle eight (‘feverissssh!’) before indulging in some goosebump-inducing, all too brief ad-libs that document her incredible trajectory from Electribe 101’s seminal ‘Talking with Myself’.

UK soul kween David McAlmont is intoxicating on the lusciously pulsating ‘Like Jospehine Baker’ and Bootsy Collins delivers P-Funk instructions on the louche and bumping ‘Atomium’. It’s apparent that Dickson has not gone in for stunt genre-casting on Ft. and has created tracks for his artists that are a satisfyingly natural fit.

The more eccentric performers here – B52’s Fred Schneider and New York art star and downtown doyenne Little Annie – feature on ‘Truck’ and ‘You’re Just Another Song’, respectively. Schneider tries to hold back, not very successfully, on the Larry Tee electro-pop of the former and Little Annie takes a drag bitch-track pill and is artfully tuneless on the matter-of-fact chorus of the latter.

Yoko Ono is not an artist immediately associated with dance culture – and she certainly hasn’t had the commercial success within the genre that many of the artists here have. She has released remix albums of some of her solo material and became something of a star again in the 00s with electro-trash artists acknowledging her influence on them. But ‘In Love with Life’ is one of Ft.‘s defining moments and has one of its most affecting performances. Its spoken word vocal is genuinely moving, with Dickson’s serenading string section a full-blooded statement in itself. Maybe the best thing about it, though, is the classic Chicago house vibe. The beats eventually incorporate the still ubiquitous Plant Rock drum machine sound, merging with the melancholy of the track’s other elements, to render this a massive dance track – dancing in the face of potential disaster.

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And this is what Hifi Sean so implicitly understands on Ft. His expert blending of musical motifs can generate feelings that lyrics alone cannot convey, performed by artists who won’t be defined or restricted by their gender, sexuality, age or race. Ft. is a celebratory but substantial record that excels on every level – listen to it and get yourself an education.

About John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.