Say “Smallville” to a certain sort of house music nerd, and there’s a good chance a pad-driven melody starts reflexively unfurling in their head. As much as any dance label I can think of, the Hamburg imprint gives its followers exactly what they expect—pads, light-touch percussion, Stefan Marx-drafted artwork—from a crew of true believers. One of the label’s most reliable practitioners is Lawrence, AKA Peter Kersten, whose Dial label has long traded in a similar strain of dreamy house. His latest EP for Smallville is Manhattan, and it ticks all the usual boxes.
Does it offer anything on top? The answer begins with Kersten’s basslines—they’re warm, smooth and supremely low, and they lend a faint but critical glimmer of tension to the formula. The mix is still hazy, but with a palpable rumble beneath the surface Manhattan is less house music heard through weed smoke than a creeping hangover. On “Nowhere Is A Place,” those Smallvillian pads sound hopeful but confused, its individual notes never quite forming a melodic whole, either with themselves or the bassline grooving underneath.
The combination is just as strange on the title track, but Kersten makes it work through sheer insistence. The pads spend most of the track sustained on a single chord this time, with the melody unraveling almost imperceptibly over a matter of minutes. Driven by a tick-tock beat, “Dark & Stormy” feels close to straightforward, though the drums occasionally trigger squiggles of psychedelic sound effects. Kersten has a knack for making the familiar feel unsettling, and it makes Manhattan both recognizably Smallville and patently askew.