Chicago footwork has always been fundamentally about levitation. That's true of both its dance steps, which are like B-boying in zero gravity, and the music itself, held aloft by polyrhythmic sequences that spin like helicopter blades in a dizzyingly syncopated moiré of accents and offbeats. But "Footworkin on Air," the track that opens Da Mind of Traxman, goes way beyond pointing out the merely obvious: Its bubbling mbira, Reichian counterpoints, and Oneohtrix-style arpeggios float so weightlessly that they make Traxman's peers sound comparatively earthbound. If juke and footwork lifted house music aloft, Da Mind of Traxman strings balloons from the eaves and sends it soaring over the skyline.
It's hardly all as downy-soft as that opening cut, though. Elsewhere, spring-loaded hi-hats put the mousetrap back into trap music and 808 kick drums roll out in pile-driving seismic volleys. But the album's most important contribution to footwork, particularly at a moment when the style risks being co-opted and codified by legions of hipsters reworking YouTube rips in Ableton, is to remind us of its essential malleability, as capable of turning AC/DC into a gospel call-and-response as it is of splicing MPC swing with free-jazz flux. Quoting and referencing Prince, Ronnie Laws, ghetto house, circus music, Blaxploitation flicks, and, obliquely, Eric B. & Rakim's "Paid in Full" (via the Ofra Haza a cappella that Coldcut used for their remix), Da Mind does for footwork's culture of sample-flipping what DJ Shadow's Endtroducing… did for instrumental hip-hop. P.S.