The man variously known as Kurtiss and Curtis Vodka cuts a rather mysterious figure. This EP’s press release claims he’s forged ‘uncanny relationships with everything from 50 Cent to Mall Grab,’ but biographical information is thin on the ground; Discogs outs him, just a bit, as one Kurtis Toivonen, a DJ and producer based in Anchorage, Alaska. Over the years, Toivonen has put out some nicely eccentric tunes, some released ‘officially’ and others floating around somewhere in the ether, that range from the revved-up R&B cut-ups of ‘Yeti Bounce’ to the ravey breakbeat euphoria of the ‘Splash’ EP. Now comes the semi-eponymously monikered ‘The Curtis Vodka EP’ on Oslo’s Mutual Intentions label — which despite the ‘EP’ in the title, runs ten cuts long if you opt for the full vinyl bundle, which includes the bonus ‘Tributes & Remixes’ 12-inch. And we’re happy to report that it’s a winner.
The album serves a love letter to house music, particularly the house of the ’80s and ’90s. Spectral diva-vocal samples swirls through the celestial chords of ‘NYC Jam’ until a sax reminiscent of the Believer’s ‘Who Dares to Believe in Me’ taking over for the coda, while the groove underlying the bubbling 303 and classic piano riff of ‘Amor De La Casa Acida’ is part Pail Joey, part Abacus. Vestiges of Larry Heard’s emotive style abound though touches like the melancholy pads of ‘Club Odysseus’ and the hollowed-out bass tone of ‘Alvar Aalto.’ One of the bonus tracks makes the Heard connection abundantly clear: ‘Can You Feel It (LH Tribute)’ is almost a note-for-note cover of the Mr. Fingers standby, with a few acid bits tossed into the mix towards the track’s finish.
Another of the bonus cuts, ‘Every Woman Love’s Acid’ follows the grand house-music tradition of constructing a track around the earworm bassline of Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s ‘Jack Your Body,’ blanketing it in soaring strings and yet more 303, along with a chopped vocal sample from…well, you can figure it out. (The third and final bonus is his version of ‘I Never Thought I'd See the Day,’ harkening back to those halcyon days when dreamy Sade remixes were all the rage.) ‘Soul Musique’ has the gooey feel of an early deep-houser from Strictly Rhythm or Nervous; ‘Play Only At Night’ could pass for a mid-’90s Masters at Work tune. Granted, this isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff, but it’s obvious that Toivonen really, really enjoys his classic house motifs, and that he’s really, really good at recreating them. If you enjoy house as much as he does, then this record will certainly do the trick
The Curtis Vodka EP is available now via Bandcamp