Released in the confounding year of 2020, Ryan Herr and Jesse Hendricks’ collaborative effort Cusp is an elegant quilt of organic musicality, a medicinal archetype that blends inspired instrumentation and poignant songcraft into a space of serenity.
Their project harnessed the ancient and antique, stripping things down to the barest of essentials in a delicate display of masterful musicianship. In a fascinating case of reverse-engineering, the duo made the stems to these eight songs available to an inspired assembly of electronic producers, with a mission to reimagine the tracks in mystical, mysterious and ultimately magical fashion. Now, the results are in with the stirring Cusp (The Remixes), released in March.
A gilded flower in an increasingly concrete jungle of hardstyle sounds, this record gives birth to a divergent slab of medicinal sound art in the electronic space. The Cusp remixes are a psychedelic, sensual reinvention; the stunning 14-track album welcomes contributions from Random Rab, Moontricks, Mose, Scott Nice, Erothyme, Drumspyder, Equanimous & Oliwa, Yemanjo, Tone Ranger, Spice Traders, Tropo, Momentology, Geometrae and Stratusphere.
The original project first took shape well over four years ago, after recording sessions for the Wildlight acoustic album The Tide at Hendricks’ Santa Cruz studio. The pair were blessed with an abundance of top tier equipment, analog technology, and mics. The teammates were ably assisted by studio wizard and longtime collaborator Tyson “Tropo” Leonard, who in addition to his instrumental virtuoso, is a front-of-house engineer with the world-renowned Alan Parsons Project.
These three colorful multi-instrumentalists/producers have maintained a fruitful, rewarding relationship for nearly two decades, performing in various configurations both at international transformational festivals and on the stateside get-in-the-van touring grind. The connection stems from nascent jam bands in San Luis Obispo to ecstatic dance communities that dot the natural landscapes of Northern California, Big Island in Hawaii and beyond.
The troubadours also logged long stretches as integral parts of the Jumpsuit Records musical family in various capacities alongside The Polish Ambassador, Ayla Nereo, and the plethora of vibrant artists who have joined the label’s roster and festival stages over the years. All of these long, dusty roads led to this endeavor, a pristine project that Herr calls their “organic album,” Cusp.
The basic tracks for Cusp were culled from a years-old pile of musical ideas, an assortment of Ryan Herr’s guitar vamps and mandolin melodies, Jesse Hendricks’ banjo grooves, and various flute loops—an abundance of themes, riffs, and rhythms that each musician had developed over years of shedding, touring and experimenting. Tropo’s thrilling violin work only elevated the situation. For some time, these tracks sat on the shelf, unfinished until the epic pandemic pause of 2020. Herr, Hendricks and Tropo reached the finish line in humble, yet grandiose fashion.
Their spirited songs soon stitched together into an amorphous afghan of cross-cultural hymnals, laced with a supple bed of international percussion sounds. The sum of these parts is Cusp, a translucent, ornamented collection.
Distilled from the Cusp’s eight tracks, Cusp Remixes finds the cuts reverse-engineered by fourteen inventive producers to create a truly eclectic listening/dancing experience. In spite of its source material’s serenity, Cusp Remixes is in no way light on thump. To these ears—and feet—the album feels tailor-made for the ecstatic dance floor and blissed-out festival sunsets. Expertly sequenced for maximum potency, the record tucks into an intentional flow state. There’s a meditative quality to the beats, and a palpable restraint runs through the project that makes it equally ideal for writing, cooking, hiking, or just being in the moment; a stillness in time while life flies by in a whirlwind of commotion.
Ryan Herr, Jesse James – Cusp Remixes – Full Album
Reveling in an intangible nostalgia, Cusp (The Remixes) coalesces into a unified theory, humbly revisiting the past while sprinkling hints of the future into the now. The subtly-emotive music evokes a deep connection to nature, sparse soundscapes that pulse with stoical, cerebral beats brimming with heart-filling, melodic flourishes. Each track contributes to the greater narrative unspooling, reverberating with themes conceived by Herr and Hendricks, piloted by the kaleidoscopic vision of the particular producer at the helm.
“Ryan sent me the Cusp album, and I was immediately drawn to it. I just loved all the phenomenal live instrumentation and great arrangements. What an honor to get to know the intricacies of their performance,” said Random Rab, who contributes a vibrant, euphoric take on “Juju”.
“I picked ‘Juju’ because I loved the uplifting melodies and faster pace. It felt like a fun track to make into a sunrise, hands in the air, celebratory dance track.” Rab explained. “ I really wanted to just keep working on it until I had to evacuate my studio in Colorado because of the wildfires. I remember scrambling to finish it while watching a wall of smoke and flames billow up from the mountains only a few miles away.”
Scott Nice, another Jumpsuit homie and Nevada City denizen, kicks off the festivities with his sturdy revamp of “Rain Shadows”, boasting thumping melodic bass with elements of hip-hop and dub. It’s a firm and assertive launching point for the multi-hued safari to come.
A handful of the tracks get the reimagination treatment by different producers. Take the aforementioned “Juju”: Rab’s exhilarating tropical energy is deftly juxtaposed by the second “Juju” remix, courtesy of Nevada City global-house/trumpet maestro Yemanjo. The perfect yang to Rab’s yin, in this case Yemanjo’s interpolation takes the original track in an entirely different, absolutely dynamite direction.
“A nod towards Jean-Luc Ponty – with a dose of Cheese (SCI) – for inspiring the original tune”, Herr said of “Juju” and it’s genetic origins. With regard to Yemanjo’s version, he explained, “It’s what you would call a ‘minor flip’… the original song is in a major key, and Ben (Yemanjo) took this to its relative minor; along with it came this super fun, bouncy, deep organic house track.”
“Mycelium” is a composition that has three interpolations; rising stars Moontricks take an excellent stab at the number early in the Cusp Remixes journey, evoking the wild west and frontier vibes with a certain original Moontricks twist. The themes from “Mycelium” are later reprised by Equanimous & Oliwa, and again even further down the road by the ever-creative Tropo. Leonard captains a divine spacecraft that floats into the ether, driven by a sturdy psy-bass pulse and levitating soundscape.
Ryan Herr & Jesse Hendricks – “Mycelium” (Moontricks Remix)
[Video: Moontricks Music]
Jumpsuit vet Tone Ranger astounds once again, delivering his own “Universal Language” in the form of a euphoric lo-fi house journey, peppered with subtle slivers of color. Geometrae’s remix of the same tune takes yet another electro-magnetic pathway, beckoning with a warm, inviting opening passage that gives way to extraterrestrial bass patterns for a gloriously gooey, subaqueous diversion.
When reflecting on these varied, vibrant versions of his own compositions, Herr was particularly excited about the Mose remix of “Canyon Song”, which features vocal parts from Timo Beckwith. “It was an honor to have Mose remix one of our tracks. I met Mose several years ago when we did a gig together at one of those epic Nevada City waterfall deep dives. It did not take long at all for his music to completely entrance me. He is a master at what he does,” Herr said.
Near the end of the exploration, we arrive at what might be the crowning jewel, “Cinco Sabores”. The stunning, 9-minute odyssey comes courtesy of Spice Traders. A dubbed-out, psychedelic affair that would be equally at home in a Kingston yard or a festival squish zone, the song eventually shifts its modus operandi into a Latin-jazz house-groove that floats, soars, shimmies and sashays it’s way through the mind, body and takes up residence somewhere even deeper. A thrilling reinvention of an already savory song, Spice Traders’ remix of “Cinco Sabores” is a standout track that should find its way onto global dancefloors with a quickness.
Cusp (The Remixes) is a collection of loosely-connected, thematic compositions that seamlessly meshes organic instrumental musicality with tasteful electronic bump. Incorporating ancestral rhythms and melodies, mixing the technological elements into an amalgam of ornate instrumentation and deft sampling, Cusp Remixes rides into the barrel of folkloric electronic, whilst traversing divergent terrains in the never-ending search for new land.