Ghislain Poirier is between a rock and a hard place. The Canadian producer has been on the cusp of blowing up for several years now. Like an electronica artist, he has been waiting patiently for his moment. However, Poirier does not have the backing of an entire industry-wide marketing push of a genre, not to mention that he can scarcely be considered a “member” of any one particular musical style. Frankly he’s a bit of a press agent’s nightmare. He’s a musician who dabbles in a lot of different styles — and, at present, mostly in genres that are still primarily popular in African diasporas, not in the Western mainstream. Hopefully that current ’80s/’90s nostalgia falls shy of promoting him as the Great White Hope of World Hood Music. For now Poirier continues to crawl his way into your playlist.
Fortunately for Poirier his seventh album, Running High, is perhaps his most accessible to date. For one, he dropped his first name from the album credits, perhaps because non-Francophones were thrown by the pronunciation. On a more serious note, he finds a middle ground between his insatiable musical appetite and the music dominating dance floors today. The album collects and reflects on the three EPs he released from early 2009 to early 2010: Soca Sound System, Run The Riddim and Low Ceiling.
The first disc reorganizes the content of the original EPs into a new track order, so it feels more like a whole album as opposed to three distinct releases. And what a difference a little housekeeping makes. Poirier sounds like an au courant pan-African music fiend instead of a sonic tourist passing though cultures. His juiced-up vision of South African kwaito originally featured on Low Ceiling seamlessly complements the Caribbean shouters from Soca Sound System and the roughneck Canadian-Jamaican Run The Riddim. In this manner the opening of the soca-soaked “Wha-La-La-Leng” into the four-on-the-floor jumping bean “Marathon” followed by the ‘bows-swinging-side-to-side anthem “Get Crazy” is a win-win-win combo.
Remixes and other new tracks fill the second disc. Choice producer peers like club-friendly stalwarts Sticky and Baobinga find ways to connect Poirier to more familiar dance-floor territory. These remixes don’t necessarily re-up the originals, but they find acceptable access points for Poirier’s occasionally inscrutable productions. More interesting are the adventurous takes by Douster and Uproot Andy as they respectively re-envision “Coco Drunk” and “Wha-La-La-Leng” as progressively bass-heavy and dubby knockers.
Running High succeeds mostly in asserting Poirier’s ability to produce aggressive dance music. This is not the heady music of his 2005, The Wire magazine-friendly Breakupdown. Similarly the electric relaxation of his 2001 debut Il N’y A Pas De Sud… and the smartly weeded downtempo of his 2003 album Beats As Politics all seem like a lifetime ago. Not content to simply translate the upbeat energy of the popular soca, kwaito and dancehall in circulation, Poirier instead mixes in the less mainstream, hoodier aesthetic of tough guy stances (reflected in his choice of gruff-voiced emcees like Mr. Slaughter, MC Zulu and Burro Banton) and merciless kick-in-the-door beats. Yet the constant is Poirier’s attention to production detail and consistency in vision. When the man has an idea, he proves to be a born sprinter and runs with it.