Germany’s Tokyo Dawn Records has always been a stable of prime thoroughbred funk stallions, a veritable conveyor belt of groove and throwback sounds that have rarely let us down since its inception in 1997. But with changes in 2009 came a renaissance and a new wave of artists eager to dance till the (Tokyo) dawn came. Next off that seemingly endless carousel is SoulParlor, a duo of DJ/producer types named Frank Jensen and Tobias Muller, with their album Smile.
Although ostensibly an album, this collection of 15 songs works best as a sampler for the many featured artists and the record label in general. Nothing here strays too far from the squelchy, electro funk of previous releases and at times that lends the whole album a sheen of peerlessly smooth, if slightly samey-sounding dance-edged funk grooves. That sampler set feeling is enhanced by the sheer multitude of guest vocalists on offer here, from the deliciously freaky vocals of Amalia to the grittier tones of Capitol A. That said, this set comes into its own when the songs are taken as individual tracks -- the joys of the shuffle if you will.
Album opener “Smile” is emblematic of the entire album. It saunters into view with all its bubbling bass and sonic fizzes, pops and bangs and assumes a head-bobbing, foot-shuffling bit of laid-back groove. The vocals courtesy of Jata run scales up and down, while the lyrical content is simple but effective. “Out On the Floor” featuring Erik Rico is a call to arms -- or rather feet -- to get yourself lost in the heat of the dance floor and give in to the urge to burn that disco out. Thus it flows, ever onward in search of the groove, that rare undefinable moment of joy when you’re lost in the magic of the music and the world outside fades to grey.
Amalia’s guest spot on “Freakay Laday” peps things up nicely with her other worldy vocals twisting this way and that to ask the questions, "Do I scare you, baby? / Am I too much of a woman for you?" The answer to both of those questions is a resounding "yes." On “Nostalgia,” Capitol A’s vocals cut through the P-Funk grime, while “Wall” (once again with Erik Rico on vocals) has echoes of 4hero’s work and “Always” with Parks on the mic has a carnival feel to it that is a welcome change to the mood and tone that prevails on the album.
In short, there are gems aplenty to be had here, but this is the aural equivalent of binging on marshmallows. You can surely eat a whole bag of marshmallows if you take one at a time, but you don’t want to eat the whole bag in one sitting. You can have too much of a good thing. Dig deep and pick one out every once a while and this album will reward you. Listen to all 15 songs in one go, and it melds into one and you risk losing the charm of the individual parts of this well-oiled funk machine.