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First Listen: Maxmillion Dunbar, 'House Of Woo'

NPR icon by Lars Gotrich
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Shawn Brackbill

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The first moments of "Slave to the Vibe" are like stepping into an '80s buddy-cop movie soundtrack: An unlikely duo is up to its hijinks again, as a pan flute and some synth whistles roll up their blazer sleeves on the boardwalk. About three minutes in, the beat swagger-jacks the vibe into ultra-aviator mode. It's fun, carefree, deceptively simple. This is Maxmillion Dunbar's M.O., and after 2010's Cool Water and a number of 12" singles, House of Woo, out Feb. 19, is a dazzling and diverse collection of the chillest jamz. (Yes, in this case the word necessitates a "z.")

Maxmillion Dunbar is Andrew Field-Pickering, one-half of the cosmic-disco duo Beautiful Swimmers and co-founder of the Future Times label, all based out of Washington, D.C. A tight-knit electronic-music and DJ scene has formed around Future Times, the style known as moombahton and U Street Music Hall in one of the most unlikely musical movements to come out of the nation's capital. But after spending so much time performing abroad — and bearing in mind America's increasing attraction to the vibe — Maxmillion Dunbar is set to seduce the clubs here.

What makes House of Woo so affecting is Field-Pickering's unabashed enthusiasm for sound. His base may be techno and house — "Ice Cream Graffiti" and the transcendent "Loving the Drift" are the most straightforward cuts here — but the samples are a dollar-bin dive into New Age and smooth '80s and '90s R&B. That's not to say Maxmillion Dunbar looks back; if anything, House of Woo is about any joyful thing that makes the beat. The ethereal synths and single-tear pan flute in "Peeling an Orange in One Piece" should be cheesy, but Field-Pickering makes the song a meditation. "Inca Tag" should sag under the weight of dramatic percussion, but it's by far the most headphone-tickling track of the set. Built up from samples, synths and drum machines, House of Woo focuses on simple ideas, yet shape-shifts like a T-1000, an eternal (but happy) slave to the vibe.

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