Wednesday, February 25, 2004


Released, UK// Now

Having got this last November, I listened to it once on a train and haven’t returned to it since. First impressions were vague, possibly because its subtleties were so perfectly merged with the motion of the train as I stared distantly out at the world passing by, possibly because I just wasn’t listening. So, it gets another go…

The intro, ‘Nervous Laughter’ actually has a sound that sounds like a locomotive – chuffing breathlessly beneath a manic, giddy twinkle of higgledy-piggledy melodies, jarring then coming into focus. ‘Fex’ comes in dry; a single flat kick lead in then splits into manifold percussive elements working perfectly in unison – no tedious build-up of hi-hat, snare and tom; they slide in and out with great crashes of reverbo-fuzz and quasi-human voice that sends static-ripples across the skin. Like a suppler, more alert Basic Channel, or Richie Hawtin in ‘DE9’ mixdown mode rather than the self-absorbed folly of ‘Closer’, this is dubby, digital techno with an edge; nerves pinpricked, eyes darting; music for dancing rather than dreaming.

‘Just Us Now’ introduces a full vocal; husky, breathy and multi-tracked. A naughty synth figure seesaws over a swinging house rhythm, like Herbert nudging towards Todd Edwards terrain or Maurice Fulton wired on caffeine. ‘The Crush’ is like smooth stones dropping in cool liquid, or coloured oil in water, forming gloopy shapes in seasick waves. ‘But For You’ is tuff-nut technoid house; the vocal is half-spoken with hints of a groovy Bowie. “You musn’t slide,” sings Matthew, the greasy pole of a groove makes that awkward, the melodies playing around you like taunting kids.

‘In Unbending’ slides darkwards. The reverb is thick in the air like electric fog, sticking in the throat. Parched drums but fluid bass, rolling around in a nauseous stomach. Track lurches. Dancers hiccup. Double vision; the dancefloor’s tilting violently on a pivot, funfair style, and the floor is slicked wet. While attempting a befuddled jig you fall of the edge into a dub void and float there. Fall into ‘Dog Days’; equilibrium is regained, the beat stabilises, dancers dance again but dizzy now, falling into one another. A freaky keyboard funk apes a drunken Prince. Homeboys don leotards and do the Running Man dance. Backwards disco; everything in negative. ‘Huffing Stuff’ wobbles; someone’s playing a ping-pong ball against your forehead. Time to stop this review; I’ve lost my concentration… ///

Artist// SHITMAT
Released (UK)// EARLY-APRIL 2004

Is the rave history book being re-written? In the hands of silly beggars like Shitmat’s Henry Collinz it seems jungle tekno in its heyday was nothing more than a rhythmic diarrhoea spattered with superfluous sirens and unintelligible patois, with no original nuance, creative edge or direction beyond that – i.e., the infernal racket your parents always insisted it was – as they exaggerate all the stereotypes until it becomes completely meaningless; just detritus; just shit. At least that’s one way of looking at it. Another would be that the likes of Collinz are simply re-injecting some of the fun that was sucked out of hardcore by jungle’s darker excesses, mutating those excesses and typical genetic characteristics into the sphere of the totally comic book and ridiculous.

So, we get this kind of scatological noise-obliteration – part hypersonic nostalgia-mindmelt aided by laughing gas, part stoned/drunken studio goof and complete geekboy indulgence that’s funny in a five-second, disposable way and mildly offensive to the old purists, but not very (basically, you can take it or leave it). The idea in principle is to take the old ‘Babylon Badbwoy’ a capella and rinse it out ten times over a splurge of double-speed, funk-devoid snares, nasal membrane-exploding gabba four-stomp, cockney MCs shouting obscenities, old fashioned police sirens, ska-punk guitars, Boney M’s ‘Rivers of Babylon’, ‘Golden Brown’ at the wrong speed, ‘Eye of the Tiger’, the Mastermind, Benny Hill and South Bank Show theme-tunes and the ‘Six Million Ways to Die’ bassline. ‘On a Ragga Tip’ is sampled for ‘On a Ragga Shit’. Geddit?

One track (‘Ace of Base Babylon’) is simply the a cappella played over an instrumental of Ace of Bass’s ‘All That She Wants’. Rude! ‘Jackson$ Babylon’ drops it out a Wacko Jacko medley. Ruffneck! The last track is called ‘Run Out of Ideas Babylon’, and, indeed, ten tracks begins to push the old stupidity threshold somewhat. If Sound Murderer and SK-1’s ‘Rewind Records’ was a smouldering homage to apocalyptic ghost riders of 1994, this is the ‘comedy’ spoof with zero respeck for musical sacred cows. You don’t really need them to draw you a picture but they do anyway: the cover depicts a cartoon gun-toting, spliff-burning, puffa jacket-wearing lion trampling broken vinyl in a record shop (Blackmarket, perchance?), a whistle round its neck and a ring emblazened with “Amen” on one claw. It’s not really a joke that works on multiple levels. ///

Released (UK)// 14 APRIL 2004

Former Rephlex artist Gianluigi Di Constanzo debuts on Manchester’s Device, again flexing his uncanny skills of atmospheric manipulation, resonating with the kind of quiet awe familiar to the halcyon days of Warp’s ‘Artificial Intelligence’ era and later Boards of Canada’s fear-stricken comfort zone. On the opening ‘Terpsitone’, undersea sonar beams seem to rebound off the smooth black hull of an alien submarine, a caressing melody and piercing dolphin tones that take you into some nautical other-place.

Its title may smack of Kraftwerk-worship, but ‘Mannequin’ is an arcane Moog dance with a spooked aquatic vibe, electro zaps and resonant frequencies lending a sense of unease – Atlantian disco with a sense of dislocation. The sobbing, amniotic swirl of the two-minute ‘GTE’ bleeds into the future-orchestral ‘Telegame’, with its dulled timpanis and softly pastoral woodwind, burbles and organic squelches disrupting the deep, dark calm. The sleeve imagery is of antiquated games systems, but it’s a bigger, stranger sound-world that goes beyond home entertainment and deeper into the imagination

The chimes and twinkles of ‘Home’ sound comfortable and romantic, like a warm fireside carpet, but still with a dreamy sense of unreality that could dissolve into something scarier. The skulking ‘MVS’, with its gentle and brooding darkness played out by two simple chords seesawing precariously, a feeling of peering round dark corners edged by the plips and plops of stalagmites – an atmosphere ice-cold to touch but rumbling warm deeper within. There’s something absent here – a longing at the heart, a centre of gravity displaced, putting everything off its kilter. Of course, if everything were upright and proper the world would be a much less fascinating place – and you feel Di Constanzo’s still fascinated with the sounds he can make. ///


Artists// VARIOUS
Released (UK)// MID-APRIL 2004

A label with the kind of consistently top-notch output you don’t really appreciate until it’s put down on compilation, Hydrogen Dukebox’s third compendium draws together a collection of coolly understated electronic music with the onus on melody and genuine listenabilty rather than outright abstraction for its own sake. A1 People’s heavily Numanesque electro-pop (‘The Reason’) is at the catchier end of the scale, whilst the subtly blissed-out strains of Plumbline and Globo (‘Stop the Scientists’) adopt a more supine posture – all sloping organic basslines, shuffling cymbals and simpering girly vocals.

One-time Orbital peer, Pentatonik, returns after a seven-year sojourn, dropping shards of kryptonite melody over a live drum breakon ‘Better to have Loved’; like a soothing electro eye-bath the 3rd Eye Parametric’s ‘Inner Thoughts’ doesn’t do much but it has a nice effect, whilst the classy, glassy chords of Norken’s Lee Norris get seriously funked up by Swammy’s Bootsy Collins-style bass-led re-rub.

Meanwhile, Norris’ other guise, Metamatic, gets the once over from original synth renegade, John Foxx. Clearly, pinching the name of the sharp-suited one’s seminal LP for his nom de plume has done nothing but enamour him to the former Ultravox man, who turns in a fine reworking of ‘4am on Spectre Canal’, flipping the script into electro-breaks terrain when you think you’ve got it pinned as a pleasant ambient shimmer, before zapping off on a glammy synth wig-out. It’s mutual appreciation without the cringe-factor. Suffice to say, without Foxx this compilation would probably not exist. ///

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Tufluv Album of the Now//

Released( UK)// MID-APRIL 2004

What Spektrum aren’t is a new Basement Jaxx, although they sound a bit like one. It’s Lola Olafisoye’s voice, I think, that sounds funky and mischievous; a bit Poly Styrene, a bit Pauline Black, a bit Ari Up, a bit Eartha Kitt, a bit Betty Davis, a bit Brides of Funkenstein and a bit like most of the Jaxx’ female guest vocalists. And there’s that spunky, spiky naughtiness that the Jaxx share, too: little gremlin voices gribbiting and belching, bleeps and pops that burst around supa-lithe basslines. I’m talking boneless groove-eels that wrap around legs like the thing in Star Wars and pull you under the cosmic slop.

What Spektrum aren’t is some Hoxtonite punk-funk revival; some fashion student’s lame attempt to appropriate all ESG’s old tricks and sell them to the Dazed & Confused crowd. But they do sound a bit like ESG. What Spektrum aren’t is a click-house supergroup; they’re too hot to be that ice-cool. But what Spektrum is is a band: four people – a singer, a drummer, a bassist, a keyboard wizard with a knack for modern classical composition and a taste for grime. What Spektrum isn’t is a computer, but they’ve got a few. What Spektrum is is sexy, soulful, slippery, spartan, spark-spittin’, spastic and far from static. What Spektrum is is a great new pop group that’s not quite pop enough.

‘Kinda New’ is a Nile Rodgers bass-spanker, more loose and fluid than the bleeped-up Tiefschwarz mix. Teia Williams’ bass sounds its most evil and inescapable on ‘Musical Alchemy’; picking out a brutally funky figure as Lola goes all voodoo-disco priestess with a nasally snarl etched in Londonese drawl. The drums are brittle and insistent and a monster opens up his mouth sporadically, swallowing the whole in a great, chasmic yawn of studio fx. It cuts to just the bassline; the rubber spine – tingle-factor ten – your soul is slowly sucked away.

Oh, I know what’s so Jaxx here. It’s the interludes; the thirty-second mini-tracks that punctuate every two or three tracks – an old Buxton/Ratcliffe trick wherein Gabriel Olegavich exercises all his digital mastery like a Dolby assassin to give everything a theatrical, cinematic edge. On ‘Shall I Jump’, Lola appears perched on the precipice of a high building above London, contemplating dropping in on the seething swarm of the metropolis below at high velocity. Instead she drops into ‘Freefall’: pitch-black rockabilly-rocksteady, a deadly afro-girl-on-a-motorcycle kinda stomp. Baaadass in bovver boots.

‘Freakbox’ is yer space-age ghost-disco for the undead hustle-pimps in snakeskin strides; a disembodied dancefloor revolving in narcotropic smoke. ‘Country Licks’ clatter-bangs like a rickety housed-up Maurice Fulton thang throbbing beneath splintering floorboards. “You know it tastes like honey/And I will nick your money,” sings Lola, before her voice trips off like some scared child into a mad dream of forests and bees and fire. Drums rumble, the thing splits; groove resumed.

‘Lychee Juice’ lolls around some liquid recess, ice plinks, spits out some Grace Jones pips, sings of impregnation, fornication, masturbation and lubrication; drums stagger as if sedated, groove rolls on a little slower and drunker than before. ‘Low Down’ drops a “let me down” chant; boy/girl offset; drops a beat and spaced-out synths; funks it out with a bass like a fat tongue swollen in the mouth; slides lazily into a revery. Ends on ‘Freakbox’ remix – Villalobos. The way to the future points madwards. There’s a radio in your head. The bassline don’t stop; the echo chamber’s as big as your mind. Prepare for entry. ///

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