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We'll listen to anything from—even construct art movements around!—any musician who can create a world of his own. And lately we're listening to Steve Spacek. He sounds like Marvin Gaye nursing an emotional bruise. On the phone, he talks a mile a minute in a streetwise South London accent about the music on his latest full-length, Space Shift. His fans breathlessly call it future soul, but he's a bit more modest. Either way, it's a landmark release for Long Beach indie label Sound In Color.
Releasing a solo album by this cult music figure is a ticket to the big time for Sound In Color, whose first releases were lovingly packaged vinyl records cut by young Long Beach and Orange County kids with a soulful new electronic sound. If things go well, though, the label will turn into a concern capable of handling an artist with an international reputation—that is, if Sound In Color's label chief Diego Carlin can pull Spacek down to earth first.
"The past two Spacek records were groundbreaking. But people didn't get it," Carlin says. "It was intended for a small crowd that was forward-thinking. With this record, he bridges a lot of gaps—it's something the average person can feel."
From the beginning, future soul was an exotic export. It's American soul done by British kids of Jamaican ancestry, mixing reggae dub and English ambient with James Brown. Spacek created the template in the 1990s with a mix of space funk, compassion and a beatnik's knack for making something beautiful out of junk found on the street. It only makes sense that later, with perfect Kerouac-ian logic, Sound In Color's Spacek project launched after a series of goofs.
He and Spacek drummer Morgan Zarate came to Los Angeles in 2004 after the group broke up to work on an album called Pookie's Blue Room #10 with soul producer/rapper Raphael Saadiq. The project got waylaid by music industry politics, according to Spacek, and he killed time by working with new producers such as Sound In Color's GB. They laid down a tender, fragile track about missing a lover called "Simply So" for GB's 2004 debut Soundtrack for Sunrise. "Simply So" was a minor club hit when Los Angeles-based Sa-Ra Collective did a remix of the song.
Since Spacek was not represented by a label, Carlin and Sound In Color co-founders Louis Yakich and Chanshine Nabangxang offered him a one-off deal. Spacek then assembled a dream team of Americans inspired by future soul. There's hip-hop genius J Dilla, a member of Detroit ensemble Slum Village, who mixed riveting '70s soul with future flash in the track "Dollar" (which could be the most positive song about free market economics yet). Zarate did the beats for "Three Hours of Fun," a light, funky tune about rocking out at Spacek's favorite London club, Plastic People. And GB provided a bookend with "Rapid Rate," a bouncy soul song made funky with dashes of flute and organ with percussion.
These styles of songs are something not often heard on America's commercial radio, but Spacek said there's no British artsiness to fear in the new album: "I don't want to be weird for weird's sake. Every note is there because it has to be there."
STEVE SPACEK AT L_EPHUNK, DETROIT BAR, 843 W. 19TH ST., COSTA MESA, (949) 642-0600. THURS., OCT. 6, 9 P.M. $10. 21+.