Ghislain Poirier has been dodging and weaving between a few different projects, including his hip-hop output on Chocolate Industries and his grittier throwback business on Kid606’s Shockout imprint. Most of his work has been engaging, including 2005’s standout Breakupdown full-length, but his best work always seems to appear in a far briefer context. No Ground Under is remarkable in its ability to take a production style that’s very much rooted in the short-attention-span dynamics of dancehall riddims and hip-hop beats and create a cohesive, extended study of the sound.
Above all, the instrumentals are outstanding. Although he retains (and relishes in) the hardware-sampler filthiness of his earlier work, his production is notably more layered and complex. There is a noteable ground-up reverence shown to building sound palates, even when doing genre studies in worlds that are currently dominated by premade kits and presets. When something as simple as a drum machine and a loop are running, he doesn’t hesitate to twist, add, and subtract, providing the kind of forward narration that separates Poirier from his peers. The beats surge forward with the clunky grace of Voltron jogging, achieving the aggression of dancehall and hip-hop without dumbing down his compositions in favor of immediacy.
The reason the whole thing works, however, is that Ghislain has an excellent ear for vocal tracks as well. There are a slew of artists who are talented producers but lose much of their control over their tracks when engineering a human being. His background in hip-hop means his guest vocals never sound plastered on.
Even when singers and live instruments enter the fray, they never sound gimmicky. Poirier displays complete control over the world his songs reside in. Arabic violin, percussive polyrhythms, thumb piano, and other elements on the record often sound tacky when placed in a context such as a Ninja Tune record. On No Ground Under, they stand beside gritty distorted kick drums with no trouble.
There are times when the songs push their luck a bit too much, and the exuberance and confidence of Poirier’s beats and his vocalists don’t always match the actual quality of the song. “City Walking” is built from an excellent instrumental but features fellow Canuk Abdominal spitting unforgivably lame lyrics about an anonymous metropolis, which becomes even more lame when you realize he’s probably talking about Toronto.
But No Ground Under is an excellent example of what happens when a talented producer stays hungry. Instead of masking imperfections with fuzzy DIY bedroom-producer shortcuts, Poirier creates perfection in a lo-fidelity world we don’t hear from often enough.