Opening the Door

Vancouver’s Mood Hut broke out last decade with a resin-fingered new-age aesthetic, a preference for vinyl releases, and a gentle, chord-perfumed take on deep house informed by what they variously call the “Canadian Riviera” or the “soft water city.” Though their sound anticipated the buzzy “lo-fi house” movement that would become ubiquitous online a few years later, Mood Hut has shied away from publicity while releasing a stream of albums, EPs, mixes, and compilations (many of which were not available digitally until 2018) at a low-key clip. Australian-born co-founder Jack Jutson has been particularly reticent. His last two releases as Jack J, 2014’s MH007 and 2015’s “Thirstin’”/“Atmosphere,” are among the label’s crown jewels, yet he’s avoided capitalizing on their hype with a full-length—or even another Jack J release—until now.

But Opening the Door offers nothing like a definitive culmination of Jutson’s sound. In keeping with Mood Hut’s tendency to be guided only by the pursuit of the perfect vibe, the album is a lighthearted collection of deep house, dub, yacht rock, and ambient sketches that sounds great on a sunny afternoon walk. Only three tracks, all on the first side, sound like dance music, and Jutson’s heavy, dragging hi-hat is often the only thing affiliating them with house. The remaining tracks lope patiently at reggae or R&B tempos or, in the case of “Clues Pt. 1” and “Closing the Door,” cut the drums to focus on watery ambient textures permeated with Linda Fox’s saxophone. And the pearly guitars in the background sometimes edge towards the slacker-rock atmospherics of fellow Canadians Mac DeMarco and Homeshake.

Jutson’s soft, slightly raspy voice has often shown up in his music as a seductive murmur or as a source to treat as a sample. Now he’s singing actual songs, more or less. “If You Don’t Know Why” opens with an eager drum thwack familiar from Jutson’s earlier work, but soon his circular mantras of reassurance drift into the frame, meandering far from the rhythmic grid: “If you don’t know why/If you don’t know why you’re crying/I’ll come by… Let’s get together and not know why.” “Only You Know Why” describes Jutson’s own distress vaguely but poignantly: “I used to think that if I was lost I’d easily be found/I took one wrong turn and turned my whole world upside down.” These are bleak lyrics for music this sunny, alluding to disappointment and mental anguish, and there’s the sense that these easygoing songs are pushing against a world of suffering. There’s always been a slight melancholy to Jutson’s productions, as if the sun is out but the shadows are lengthening, but Opening the Door literalizes it.

Yet these heightened emotional stakes can’t keep Opening the Door from feeling a little slight, especially given its long gestation. Its eight tracks all hover around four to six minutes apiece, and, conspicuously, there’s no obvious epic or clear highlight like MH007’s “Something (On My Mind)” or “No Need” from Jutson’s Pender Street Steppers duo with Liam Butler. Mood Hut’s insistence on operating on its own timetable means this is either deliberate or outside the sphere of Jutson’s concern. But a Jack J full-length that sustained the scale and ambition of MH007 or Pender Street Steppers’ Life in the Zone mixtape could have towered over the Mood Hut catalog, rather than slotting easily alongside it as a breezy and enjoyable release on a label that’s put out a lot of those.


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