It may be tempting to worry when a celebrated artist heads back in to the studio after a long time away. Sometimes, the hype can be too much; Dr Dre’s Compton simply couldn’t reach the giddy expectations set by 2001. Other times, it can be glorious, like D’Angelo’s staggering return to form with Black Messiah after a 14-year gap.
Cerebral Hemispheres is the first studio album from Larry Heard, or Mr Fingers, in 25 years. Despite a few EPs, and a handful of albums under his own name, it’s still long enough to raise questions like “has he still got it?” and “do we even want to know?”
The answer, fortunately, is yes.
Larry Heard is as synonymous to deep house as Grandmaster Flash is to hip-hop, Michael Jackson is to pop, or Jimi Hendrix is to rock. The 57 year-old Chicagoan belongs in the pantheon of electronic music’s greatest, alongside fellow house forefathers Frankie Knuckles, Todd Terry and Marshall Jefferson.
This means his work is an absolute must-know for self-proclaiming house aficionados. A history lesson of electronic music would simply be incomplete without “Can You Feel It” or the now Kanye-sampled “Mystery Of Love”.
On Cerebral Hemispheres, Heard invites us onto his own history lesson, reminding us of why he is so revered in the scene along the way. In many ways, the album is an in-depth examination of Heard’s own musical mind, a deconstruction of the two distinct styles for which he is known.
The album title refers to the two halves of the brain, which mirror and complement each other, and the album is clearly split into two halves, each of which takes a different path as it rummages through his three-decade long career.
The first half is a foray into the smooth, emotional, jazzy house more closely associated with work put out under Heard’s own name; “Sand Of Aruba”, with its laid-back drums and luscious saxophone could easily fit on to his 2001 release, Love’s Arrival.
Similarly, strong parallels can be drawn between the plodding grooves and Heard’s signature vocals on album opener “Full Moon”, and earlier works such as “Missing You”.
Soulful pianos are accompanied by plucked guitars on early highlight “City Streets”, whilst the flamenco-inspired “A Day In Portugal” is a chilled-out surprise which transports the listener straight to a cocktail lounge at late evening. The tracks feel familiar, simply because no one other than Heard could have produced them.
The back hour or so of the album draws more heavily on work released as Mr Fingers.
The ominous march of “Electron” quickly disintegrates into the squelchy, dark and sinister tones of “Inner Acid” and its twin, “Outer Acid”, which has been reworked from Mr Finger’s 2016 EP Outer Acid alongside “Aether”, “Nodyahed”, and “Qwazars”, a frantic, minimal romp through the more dancefloor-oriented half of Larry’s brain.
At times, it does feel like too much material stretched too thin, and one gets the feeling there is no need for this album to be so long; the tedious “Tiger Lounge” and odd departure into dub on “Spy” could probably have been cut without much opposition.
Nevertheless, the album’s high points remind us why Heard is so revered, and just how much he has shaped the genre. It is easy to see how contemporary producers have been influenced by him; “Aether”, had it been released twenty years ago, could stand as clear inspiration to the likes of Four Tet and Bonobo, and the deep house cuts could still easily get a modern festival crowd moving.
Whilst Cerebral Hemispheres may be too long and doesn’t necessarily provide an easy route in for new listeners, it stands as a solid testament to what can only be described as a stellar career, and is a satisfying return from the godfather of soulful house. Welcome back Larry.
Purchase Mr Fingers Cerebral Hemispheres on iTunes here, and stream it below.
Words by Elliot Tawney