Julio Bashmore broke almost three years ago with Battle For Middle You, following it up with Au Seve. At the time, it was a pre-Disclosure climate whereby the club scene was starting to come to terms with the re-emergence of ‘90s house music and the mainstream’s fascination with EDM was only growing.
In 2015, Bashmore is releasing his debut album in a very different climate. Disclosure have had a massive album with Settle, tropical deep house is the charts’ chosen genre right now and artists from Mary J. Blige to Drake have had a go at the deep house thing. It’s almost as if this was Bashmore’s plan - to wait until the hype around him had died down and the genre he championed was in tatters before dropping a near-perfect dance record that reminded everyone how good he was years ago.
Knockin’ Boots isn’t Settle. It doesn’t have a huge single like Latch, it features no big names and it probably won’t get in reach of the top of the charts but that doesn’t mean it’s any less brilliant. Knockin’ Boots is great because it’s come at a time when the genre it champions has grown tired. It reminds us that this kind of ‘90s-borrowing house music’s best quality is that it’s euphoric, romantic and feel-good.
From the records opening moment, Bashmore makes it clear that it’s going to be all those three things. “We danced and danced until we fell in love” is the mantra he sets for the album, sampling The Jones Girls’ Dance Turned Into A Romance. It sets a steady beat that rarely lets up for the whole album - a throbbing, bass-heavy, club-ready stomp. From there we enter into Holding On - a retro sounding track featuring the vocals of Rocnation-signed singer Sam Dew. It’s an infectiously joyous tune that takes cues from disco with a swirling, orchestral synth-line.
One of the greatest things about Knockin’ Boots is that it bleeds colour. Every song has charismatic elements whether it be the cheeky bass-line of For Your Love or phone ring of Bark. Everytime the smile fades he adds something in to make it that bit more memorable. It’s a tactic that works on nearly every track.
There are a number of tracks here that would work well on radio if Bashmore desired, which he probably doesn’t. Since bursting onto the scene he’s worked with Jessie Ware, helping him to hone his pop sensibilities and work with soulful, melodic vocalists. Let Me Be Your Weakness with London singer BIXBY is the album’s biggest pop moment with a big, soulful chorus - the type that British (and to a lesser extent Australian) radio craves.
It doesn’t ever sound like he’s trying to make hits on Knockin’ Boots though. No song sounds like it could be plucked to be the single nor does Bashmore let a more-known vocalist take the reigns and outshine him. This is his album and every track has Bashmore stamped on it. While he’s grown since Battle For Middle You and embraced the use of a vocalists there are moments on the album where he goes back to his roots. What’s Mine Is Mine is an instrumental banger that clangs with a metal-sounding beat and Bark borrows from Jersey club to work up a frenetic pace. These moments never feel out of place on the record, melding perfectly with the more accessible, soulful numbers.
Euphoria is the common thread on Knockin’ Boots and whether he’s churning out club numbers or soulful jams he makes sure that comes across. On Rhythm Of Old he uses spirituality and gospel influences to bring that feeling while on She Ain’t he uses a disco-ball turning, sped-up funk track. The whole thing is feel-good, but never explicitly so. This isn’t “put your hands in the air,” type dance music, it’s subtler than that. He’s worked on carefully flavouring each song so that you could spend the entire album feeling giddy in the stomach and falling in love. It’s appropriate that he ends the album with You & Me built around the simple feelings of a relationship - the type that make you never want to be apart from someone.
Some dance records are alienating because they’re steeped in nostalgia for a dance scene passed by that you don’t quite understand or because they’re trying to be complicated for the sake of it. The production and soundscapes of Knockin’ Beats are textured and finessed but at large they’re easy to listen to. Bashmore has tipped his hat to ‘90s house, nailed the feeling and put his own stamp on it while delivering a record that’s damn fun to listen to.