Presence All Systems Gone

Presence main man Charles Webster may be well situated in the international house scene — giving props to people such as Wamdue, Pepe Bradock and T.O.'s Dino & Terry — but this is not a house record. All Systems Gone is a milestone in contemporary dance; comparisons to Massive Attack's Blue Lines are being bandied about, and with little wonder. Not only does this album feature Massive-ly connected vocalists Shara Nelson and Sara Jay, tracks such as "Your Spirit" and "Strength Within" are reminiscent of that early ’90s spirit where vocalists such as Nicolette sang over simple, dubbed-out beats and lovely instrumentation. Producer Webster has surrounded himself with quality vocalists, including Finlay Quaye backing vocalist Steve Edwards, but it is his vision and skilled songwriting that makes this an incredible whole. He has an uncanny sensitivity towards his collaborators’ voices and lyrics, providing a moody, melodic, souled-out house vibe to accompany Edwards' lovely falsetto during "Future Love," and imperfectly complimenting Sara Jay's painfully honest tales of lovelorn life during "Far Far Away From My Heart." Not surprisingly, the house songs are also top-notch. "Sense of Danger," featuring Shara Nelson, put Presence and Pagan on the map when initially released; sexy in its confidence, this one is filled with hooks and melodies. Nelson also shines in the minimalist mid-tempo garage of "Matter of Fact," a feel good track with much substance. The house piece de resistance is "Better Days"; stronger than super-glue, it harkens back to the early, positive days with Edwards' gospel-flavoured vocals soaring over Webster's beautifully deep and soulful sounds. An absolute must-have, particularly now that it's available domestically. (Pagan)