On perfection

Perfection for a song is, in my opinion, the capacity for endless replay. Imagine a cassette with heads as big as planets, tape unspooling endlessly into the void, notes vibrating through atmospheres, endlessly. The song shuddering off of that tape, appropriate for all times, all seasons, all strata, has got to empty space as it fills it. It’s got to be a tall drink of water that leaves you thirsty when the last drop touches your tongue. It’s got to be “Is There Any Love” by Trevor Dandy.

The song is a cut off of Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal, one of the indispensable compilations on the Numero Group label. The crate diggers at Numero have spent years unearthing forgotten funk, sometimes bringing entire labels back from the grave. Funk traveled far and wide, and Numero has followed, exhuming brilliant music from the genre in places as disparate as Cleveland and Israel. Good God!, as its title indicates, is a collection of funk songs with religious themes.

Gospel music brings to mind crimson choir robes swinging, vigorous hand claps, sweaty brows, brawny piano chords charging up to unabashed celestial refrains. It also evokes quiet, soulful pieces thick with contrition, despair, or gratitude. The genius of “Is There Any Love” is that it weds the two. It’s a song with a righteous funk motor propelling a heart so broken it can only repeat a desperate question again and again, until the absence of an answer is its own reply.

It floats gently into an album saturated with pew-quaking fervor, like a buoyant little gem. On first listen, it seems entirely unremarkable, almost unfinished, as if it were waiting for the horn players to finish their smokes and lay down a sweaty overdub. Upon the 10th spin, its flat surfaces begin to disclose hidden corridors of sound and feeling. The heartbeat of a kick drum births fluttering pulses of bongo. The flanged hand claps echo like the cracking of a prophet’s bones. And those hard-panned voices intone, over and over, “Is there any love” — a question sans question mark, a recognition of mortal entrapment, a challenge to heavens that, all too often, seem empty. The song, in its spacious self-denial, mirrors and mourns that emptiness.

Trevor Dandy sees a world devoid of love. Perhaps he would be cheered to know that, for possessing this song, the world is one resonant heartbeat closer to perfection.