Posted: June 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Ambient Techno, Breakbeat, Drum 'n' Bass, Techno | No Comments »

Radio edit and video of Underworld’s first new single “Scribble” from their forthcoming new album due out by end of summer. The track was produced in collaboration with drum ‘n’ bass whiz High Contrast. It’s lovely. Check your hearts.

Get more info at Underworldlive.com.

Chemical Brother’s new ‘Further’ album on its way, track listings announced

Posted: April 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Set for a June 2010 release. Press release blurb:

“It starts with what sounds like an alien morse code transmission; Earth bound signals bouncing off the side of orbiting space debris. Snatches of voices found out in the ether cut through the machine fog, drifting across burbling analogue equipment lovingly kept working long after supposed sell-by date. By the time the click and thump of snare and bass drum arrive, the sounds are all-encompassing, swirling around you with dizzying, disorientating effect. Noises come untethered by constraints of volume, seemingly leaping from the speakers with a life of their own. For a band used to dealing in psychedelics, this time round The Chemical Brothers have really pushed the proverbial envelope.”

1. snow
2. escape velocity
3. another world
4. dissolve
5. horse power
6. swoon
7. k+d+b
8. wonders of the deep

Digging Groove Armada’s latest with my lady…

Posted: April 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Leftfield tour dates grow…still UK only

Posted: April 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Top 100 albums of the ’90s

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno, Breakbeat, Dance Rock, Downtempo, Drum 'n' Bass, House, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

Album Quilt - Top 100 Electronica Albums of the '90s - 2

The ’90s were the creative highpoint of a music revolution: the convergence of computers, electronics and human ingenuity. The fusion of machine rhythms and electric melodies freed musicians to coalesce around a predominantly energetic instrumental form. The new tools also liberated sound itself, soundwaves carving shapes and effects never before imagined.

On a stealth level, electronica was essentially X-ray music for a pre-9/11 teenage wasteland. It evaporated lyrical me-isms and mass materialism. It projected listeners into holographic Promised Lands interconnected by spines of time. Around the skeletal interplay human beings transmitted their deepest hopes and dreams. It was at once intellectual and carnal, escapist and clairvoyant.

Below is a list of my top picks from that splendid decade with tributes to each album. My basic criteria was that each pick reasonably emphasize electronica’s instrumental dynamics, display a full range of invention, express a deep artistic voice, and weather the test of time. A more detailed explanation of my selection process follows after the list. Chime in with your thoughts and criticisms. The next 100 best albums of the ’90s, as well as lists on the ’00s and ’80s are also in the works.

Click on album titles to read descriptions and histories:

1. Underworld - Dubnobasswithmyheadman – 1994
2. Orbital - Orbital 2 (‘Brown Album’) – 1993
3. Future Sound of London - Lifeforms – 1994
4. Leftfield - Rhythm and Stealth – 1999
5. Fila Brazillia - Luck Be A Weirdo Tonight – 1997
6. Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85-92 – 1993
7. Boards of Canada - Music Has the Right to Children – 1998
8. The Black Dog - Temple of Transparent Balls – 1993
9. Daft Punk - Homework – 1997
10. Ismistik - Remain – 1994
11. Speedy J - G Spot – 1995
12. Leftfield - Leftism – 1995
13. The KLF - Chill Out – 1990
14. The Chemical Brothers - Exit Planet Dust – 1995
15. Young American Primitive - Young American Primitive – 1993
16. Rockers Hi-Fi - Rockers to Rockers – 1995
17. Underworld - Second Toughest in the Infants – 1996
18. Move D - Kunststoff – 1995
19. LFO - Advance – 1996
20. Eat Static - Implant – 1994
21. Ken Ishii - Innerelements – 1994
22. Global Communication - 76:14 – 1994
23. Amorphous Androgynous - Tales of Ephidrina – 1993
24. The Advent - New Beginning – 1997
25. Children of the Bong - Sirius Sounds – 1995
26. A Guy Called Gerald - Black Secret Technology – 1995
27. Radioactive Lamb - The Memoirs of Reverend Cowhead and Sheriff Lamb Boy – 1996
28. Ronnie & Clyde - In Glorious Black and Blue – 1997
29. La Synthesis - Matrix Surfer – 1997
30. Spooky - Gargantuan – 1993
31. Coco Steel & Lovebomb - New World – 1997
32. Photek - Modus Operandi – 1997
33. The Chemical Brothers - Live at the Social – 1996
34. Orbital - Snivilisation – 1994
35. Fila Brazillia - Old Codes New Chaos – 1994
36. Nu-Era - Beyond Gravity – 1994
37. Underground Resistance - Interstellar Fugitives -1998
38. Plastikman - Musik – 1994
39. Fila Brazillia - Power Clown – 1998
40. Orbital - In Sides – 1997
41. Higher Intelligence Agency - Freefloater – 1995
42. Russ Gabriel - Voltage Control – 1995
43. The Orb - Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld – 1991
44. Orlando Voorn - Nightvision – 1996
45. The Chemical Brothers - Dig Your Own Hole – 1997
46. Kirk Degiorgio - Check One – 1998
47. DJ Dan - Loose Caboose – 1996
48. Kruder & Dorfmeister - K&D Sessions – 1999
49. Various Artists - Excursions in Ambience – 1993
50. Spring Heel Jack - 68 Million Shades – 1997
51. Love Inc. - Life’s a Gas – 1996
52. Lionrock - An Instinct for Detection – 1997
53. Torch Song - Toward the Unknown Region – 1995
54. Swayzak - Snowboarding in Argentina – 1998
55. The Black Dog - Bytes – 1993
56. Squarepusher - Hard Normal Daddy – 1997
57. Plug - Drum ‘n’ Bass for Papa – 1997
58. Spacetime Continuum - Emit Ecaps – 1996
59. Maurizio - Maurizio – 1997
60. Plaid - Not for Threes – 1997
61. Future Sound of London - Accelerator – 1992
62. 4Hero - Two Pages – 1998
63. Depth Charge - Nine Deadly Venoms – 1994
64. Dave Clarke - Archive One – 1996
65. CJ Bolland - The 4th Sign – 1992
66. Autechre - Tri Repetae – 1996
67. As One - In With Their Arps, and Moogs, and Jazz, and Things – 1997
68. B12 - Electro-Soma – 1993
69. Mouse On Mars - Iaora Tahiti – 1995
70. Woob - 1194 – 1994
71. As One - The Art of Prophecy – 1997
72. Jedi Knights - New School Science – 1996
73. Reload - A Collection of Short Stories – 1993
74. Nightmares On Wax - Carboot Soul – 1999
75. Icons (Justice & Blame) - Emotions With Intellect… – 1997
76. The Irresistible Force - It’s Tomorrow Already – 1998
77. Single Cell Orchestra - Single Cell Orchestra – 1996
78. Model 500 - Deep Space – 1995
79. Ed Rush & Optical - Wormhole – 1998
80. Groove Armada - Northern Star – 1998
81. Future Sound of London - Dead Cities – 1996
82. Baby Mammoth - One…Two…Freak – 1997
83. Sasha - Northern Exposure 2 – 1998
84. Underworld - Dark & Long – 1994
85. Richie Hawtin - Mixmag Live! – 1995
86. Biosphere - Microgravity – 1991
87. Ian O’Brien - Gigantic Days – 1999
88. Pluto - Pluto Rising – 1995
89. Jonny L - Sawtooth – 1997
90. Kosmik Kommando - Freaquenseize – 1993
91. Strange Cargo - Hinterland – 1995
92. DJ John Kelley - Funky Desert Breaks – 1996
93. Various Artists - Flux Trax – 1995
94. Aphrodite - Aphrodite Recordings – 1997
95. Faze Action - Moving Cities – 1999
96. Various Artists - The Deepest Shade of Techno – 1994
97. Nightmares On Wax - Smokers Delight – 1995
98. Coldcut & DJ Food - Stoned…Chilled…Groove – 1996
99. Various Artists - Atlantic Jaxx Recordings – 1997
100. Thomas Fehlmann - FlowingZeroNineEight – 1998

Key Electronica-Influenced Albums of the ’90s:
1. Massive Attack – ‘Blue Lines’
2. Bjork – ‘Debut’
3. Radiohead – ‘Kid A’
4. DJ Shadow – ‘Endtroducing…’
5. Massive Attack – ‘Protection’
6. Madonna – ‘Ray of Light’
7. Portishead – ‘Dummy’
8. Primal Scream – ‘Screamadelica’
9. Stereo MC’s – ‘Connected’
10. Morcheeba – ‘Who Can You Trust?’
11. U2 – ‘Achtung Baby’
12. U2 – ‘Zooropa’
13. Seal – ‘Seal’
14. Deee-Lite – ‘World Clique’
15. Everything But the Girl – ‘Amplified Heart’
16. Big Audio Dynamite II – ‘The Globe’
17. David Gray – ‘White Ladder’
18. Jamiroquai – ‘Return of the Space Cowboy’
19. The Stone Roses – ‘The Stone Roses’
20. The Happy Mondays – ‘Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches’

The thought-process behind the selection of the 100:

Many important and influential albums are missing from the list above by design. For example, followers of the Berlin dub-techno school will complain of the omission of Basic Channel and Pole. Due to the relatively rarefied nature of these artists, I have instead focused on the most accessible and representative of these ‘schools.’ In the above case, I have added Maurizio as the genre stand-in. In the case of auteurs like Jeff Mills and Matthew Herbert, their oeuvres are scattered across 12″ singles and later compilations, and will be considered in later write-ups.

Others might also scream bloody murder at my exclusion of Roni Size and Reprazent’s debut classic New Forms or Massive Attack’s Blue Lines. Ditto when it comes to Bjork. My decision in these cases was to focus on albums that generally eschewed the pop arena and hewed closer to the instrumental electronica paradigm. These albums and many other key releases are considered elsewhere on this site.

Compilations and DJ mixes are sparingly included to help fill in key gaps of the story. DJs played a crucial role in electronic dance culture, quilting together the best underground releases and taking newcomers on unforgettable journeys into sound. Many of electronica’s best compositions also came out as vinyl singles and one-offs. In addition to the DJ mixes, a few compilations were selected to help capture those groundbreaking moments.

In part, this list is meant as an antidote to the many distortions of mainstream music culture that have colored assumptions about popular music for the last 30 years. Yes, Radiohead has been brilliant. Yes, the Beastie Boys and Jay Dilla penned fantastic hip hop gems. But the creative wave of these genres crested in the ’60s and ’80s respectively. The ’90s was arguably techno’s decade, despite the critical aversion and deafness of the press at large.

As the freshest and most creative music form of that decade, one could argue that several of the ‘electronica’ albums above were also many of the best albums of the last 20 years, period. I hope those who got the message in the ’90s would agree. I hope naysayers will at least take some stock. And I wish newcomers the same joy of discovery these albums have given me and so many others over the years.

1. Underworld – ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno, Breakbeat, Dance Rock, House, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

Underworld - Dubnobasswithmyheadman

Underworld * Dubnobasswithmyheadman * 1994 * Junior Boys Own / Wax Trax!

“Thunder, thunder, lightning ahead, hummm. Will you kiss me dark and long?”

So whispers Karl Hyde at the beginning of DubnobasswithmyheadmanUnderworld‘s loopily titled audio odyssey and breakout techno album of 1994. Prior to its release no one had heard anything like it, with its blend of sawing analog synths and surreal cut-up poetry, its rush of futuristic rock and breakbeat rhythms. By the time it soaked into DJ sets and the listening press, Underworld were underground superstars.

Formed by Hyde and Rick Smith, old mates from Cardiff Art College in Wales, Underworld had already made a run at musical success in the ’80s. Originally as the band Freur, they penned the new wave hit ‘Doot Doot.’ They even toured with the Eurythmics as an industrial funk outfit. But with each turn they found themselves with no money and diminishing prospects.

In between their commercial ups and downs, Hyde cut out a wayward living as a session guitarist, first at Prince’s Paisley Park studio in Minneapolis. When he moved to New York City to tour with Blondie’s Debbie Harry, he discovered acid house and began to scissor the Village Voice newspaper and rearrange phrases into lyrics. On a parallel track back in England, Smith had teamed up with Darren Emerson, a young DJ who knew the ins and outs of dance music. When Hyde returned, they fused his wordplay and guitar licks with their electronics, using techno as the dominant force for their chimera music.

In 1992, they played a legendary 18-hour set at the Glastonbury Music Festival in the Experimental Sound Field, freewheeling from a tower stage placed in the middle of a blissed-out crowd, quadraphonic speakers blasting them all to a new frontier. Underworld could write songs, but they were first and foremost composers who knew how to jam live with power to the people.  Dubnobasswithmyheadman perfectly crystallized this expansive, blistering dynamic.

First on vinyl, Underworld’s manifesto ignited dance floors across the globe. The outtake single ‘Rez’ added to the buzz, an instant anthem of instrumental youth music and an unforgettable merry-go-round of sound. Everyone who knows it remembers where they were the first time they heard its oscillating strings of zipping fire. And as one of the early techno albums to hit the compact disc format, Dubnobasswithmyheadman flashed onto discmans and car stereos with equal heat. It was a headphone epic as well as a perfect night drive.

With Dubnobasswithmyheadman, the energetic magic of ‘Rez’ was spread across a whole album, yielding inventive compositions of what sounded like the glorious end of pop music. Hyde’s lines like “Whiplash Willy the motor psycho” and “Here comes Christ on crutches” were humorous and dark, floating above synth riffs or crashing through a haze of textures — impressionistic images painted onto the wild sonic shapes conjured by Smith and Emerson.

‘Dark & Long,’ ‘Mmm Skyscraper I Love You,’ ‘Surfboy,’ ‘Spoonman,’ ‘Tongue,’ Cowgirl,’ ‘Dirty Epic,’ ‘River of Bass,’ ‘M.E.’ — each were bold statements in their own right yet essential pieces in a seamless nocturnal symphony. By the time one got to the romantic ‘Dirty Epic’ and stood at the pearly gates of ‘Cowgirl,’ Hyde frantically repeating “I’m invisible, and a razor of love,” you were no longer listening as a bystander. You were wrapped up inside something bigger.

“Everything, everything, everything,” Hyde sings to the futuristic hoedown of ecstatic rhythms before leaving you dazed in a cloud of sparks and pinball melodies. Was it dance rock? Was it techno for the masses? Was it pop music for the next millennium, its post-modern poetry raining down through an electronic ether?

Dubnobasswithmyheadman was all those things, and more. It was the Beatnik jam session of a new generation.

1. Dark & Long
2. Mmm Skyscraper I Love You
3. Surfboy
4. Spoonman
5. Tongue
6. Dirty Epic
7. Cowgirl
8. River of Bass
9. M.E.

2. Orbital – ‘Orbital 2′ (The Brown Album)

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno, Breakbeat, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

Orbital - Orbital II

Orbital * Orbital 2 (The ‘Brown Album’) * 1993 * London Records / FFRR

“Even a stopped clock gives the right time twice a day. Even a stopped clock gives the right time twice a day…”

By 1993, ‘acid house’ was taking the world by storm. At the head of that charge were two brothers who had a gift for marrying incendiary rhythms to euphoric melodies. They called themselves Orbital, a name inspired by the M25 ‘orbital’ motorway that fed Greater London’s outdoor rave scene. Their first two hits, ‘Chime’ and ‘Belfast,’ were wordless wonders, perfectly capturing the communal energy of dance parties across Europe.

But rock fans and critics were still scratching their heads with this new sound: The conceit was that techno had no message and no soul. Phil and Paul Hartnoll were the antithesis of that stereotype. They had grown up steeped in punk, hip hop and working class values. Both were concerned about social inequality and the dangers of technology. They were members of Greenpeace and in 1996 recorded ‘The Girl with the Sun in Her Head’ using a solar generator.

Techno was predominately instrumental music. But it still needed words and word of mouth to help convey its essential message of empowerment — that the poetic meaning of its interacting notes and beats was infinite and democratic. Orbital’s exhilarating second album, 1993′s “Brown Album,” made that case better than anyone. It was packed with sheer sonic joy and raw primal energy. Yet it was its odd voice samples about time loops and stopped clocks that firmly placed the listener in a pinpoint relationship with history and the universe.

The starter ‘Planet of the Shapes’ was a sonic war of the worlds. Its blow-torched sheets of metal clashed over booming beats while a serene melody piped as if it were played by the mythic Pan enmeshed in elastic, elysian drones. ‘Lush 3-1′ and ‘Lush 3-2′ wound through melancholy notes with chugging rhythms in an Edenic spring rain. ‘Impact (The Earth is Burning)’ tipped a hat to dinosaur-killing meteorites, muscular bass plunging into a maelstrom of baroque chaos, while ‘Remind’ set things adrift with the Earth’s surface still smoldering, a descending frequency cutting loose to banging drums.

‘Walk Now…’ continued Orbital 2‘s progression, its didgeridoo suggesting an aboriginal Dreamtime, the hunt for prey afoot. ‘Monday’ made a break to industrial clocks, its contemplative melody conjuring the prospect of endless Mondays spent in cubicles — sci-fi jazz with a stiff drink.

But the album’s most astonishing moment came last with ‘Halcyon + On + On.’ It was dedicated by Paul and Phil to their mother, a tribute to her long battle with addiction to the prescribed halcion insomnia drug. It’s one of the most beautiful compositions ever written — its warm waves and uplifting groove moving through sadness and pain to joy and optimism.

In the context of the times, ‘Halcyon’ evoked an age of peace. The word “halcyon” is the ancient Greek name for kingfisher birds once believed to nest on calm seas. Like Future Sound of London‘s ‘Papua New Guinea,’ ‘Halcyon’ was part of an introspective tide in ’90s dance culture, a turning away from hedonism to consider larger questions about life and the mixed promise of new technology.

Orbital still remains a great synthesis in that quest. They were less accessible than bands like Underworld and the Chemical Brothers. Their ’90s output was more purely electronic. But at the center of their music was a deep emotionality, drawing on the Hartnolls’ anger about the environment and social injustice.

But they weren’t bleak bleepers. The way in which Orbital 2 weaved into the soul also gave individual expression to inchoate yearnings for global harmony. At the dawn of the Internet Age, it was electronic music that gave that impulse it’s highest form.

Orbital’s carefully chosen words were collective signposts to that world of extraordinary possibilities. Stepping through, the rest was pure, unadulturated magic.

1. Time Becomes
2. Planet of the Shapes
3. Lush 3-1
4. Lush 3-2
5. Impact (The earth is burning)
6. Remind
7. Walk Now…
8. Monday
9. Halcyon + On + On
10. Input Out

3. Future Sound of London – ‘Lifeforms’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

FSOL - Lifeforms 2

Future Sound of London * Lifeforms * 1994 * Astralwerks / Virgin

Future Sound of London‘s second album was another quantum leap after their acid house debut Accelerator. It sounded as if they had blown up their samplers and sequencers with dynamite and then meticulously retooled their techno circuits with needles and thread. The result was a futuristic masterpiece that is both unsettling and strangely intoxicating. From the tentacled breakbeat ride ‘Cascade’ to the soaring hawk flight of the title track, Lifeforms explored a haunting fusion of Nature and Technology.

Years after its release, in his book Generation EcstasySimon Reynolds dismissed FSOL’s magnum opus as self-indulgent prog slop, akin to Yes‘s Tales of a Topographic Ocean — he argued that the best electronic music followed in the tradition of hardcore punk. Like Reynolds, many DJs and fans were also disappointed because FSOL’s new direction was worlds away from the rhythmic nirvana of their breakout anthem ‘Papua New Guinea.’ Not one track on the double album was a convincing dance number.

Instead, Lifeforms “combined a sense of queasy, dystopian bleakness with moments of sharply exquisite beauty,” critic Tim Barr wrote. FSOL’s grand statement was not ‘prog rock’ reincarnated, as Reynolds charged. It was too weird for that. Rather it was a culturally dissonant exercise in surgical sonic mayhem.

Beyond concepts, it was album highlights ‘Among Myselves,’ ‘Omnipresence’ and ‘Room 208′ that marked FSOL’s audio journey as a revelatory experience. The astonishing ‘Among Myselves’ pulsed with a heartbeat rhythm, bittersweet melodies climaxing with a distorted horn warbling like some disembodied waterbird. ‘Omnipresence’ and ‘Room 208′ were more city than wilderness. The latter rolled to a sliding groove, calling to mind a night drive through Babylon, its shimmering synth stepping like Harry Faltermeyer‘s ‘Axel F’ from another planet.

As repeated listens to Lifeforms demonstrate, Future Sound of London didn’t turn their noses up at the dance floor, they’d simply moved sideways with a confidence rarely shared by their peers. And what they crafted as a result, sublimating dance floor dynamics into an acid raincloud, still never seizes to amaze.

Years later, Lifeforms remains a touchstone for many electronica fans. And rightly so. It’s lonely but angelic, fleeting yet timeless, always bringing new insights to life.

1. Cascade
2. Ill Flower
3. Flak
4. Bird Wings
5. Dead Skin Cells
6. Lifeforms
7. Eggshell
8. Among Myselves

1. Domain
2. Spineless Jelly
3. Interstat
4. Vertical Pig
5. Cerebral
6. Life Form Ends
7. Vit
8. Omnipresence
9. Room 208
10. Elaborate Burn
11. Little Brother

4. Leftfield – ‘Rhythm and Stealth’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno, Breakbeat, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

Leftfield - Rhythm and Stealth

Leftfield * Rhythm and Stealth * 1999 * Hard Hands / Columbia

Rhythm and Stealth is a brooding onslaught of electronic wizardry. From the streetwise raps of Roots Manuva on ‘Dusted,’ to the Afrika Bambaata throwdown of ‘Afrika Shox’ to the spectral beauty of ‘Swords,’ this swan song from one of England’s techno supergroups is the final statement on ’90s electronica.

Unlike 1995′s LeftismLeftfield‘s popular first album, 1999′s Rhythm and Stealth was jagged and austere in its first impressions. At its core was still Neil Barnes and Paul Daley’s unmistakable blend of thundering techno, dub science, hip hop beats, house rhythms and punk attitude. But their approach was now deeper in its studio precision, more beguiling in its sonic tricks, and in the end far more Detroit than Ibiza.

Reference points of place and genre fail to convey the album’s true genius though, ranging from masterful experiments in the percussive warping of space-time to 21st Century songs that beam melodies through echo-prisms like zigzagging lasers. ‘Chant of a Poorman’ and ‘El Cid’ use reverbed drums and sharpshooting notes to excellent effect. Both drift in a sonic bayou, nocturnal dub submersed in shimmering tones and lit up by ricocheting, croaking zaps.

Barnstormer ‘Afrika Shox’ takes a two-note bass pattern and reverses it, sucking it back up like a trap door, looping out to an assembly line of Zulu dreams. ‘Phat Planet’ is a metallic storm of funky change-ups and slapping high-hats that whip the air so hard they light the aural darkness like white torch blasts. When the track climaxes with a searing drum solo, the beat booms back in slightly after the downbeat with wicked inflection, resetting the vector points of polyrhythm.

And closer ‘Rino’s Prayer’ rises to a simmering Mideastern wail, a little goodwill before the epochal upsets of the coming years between East and West. Sine waves build to a mountain peak, cymbal crashes bringing down the sky as Leftfield gently float us down to a gentle throb, pondering their last prescient prayer for peace.

Leftism still gets the most kudos from critics and fans alike. It captured the heady days from 1993 to 1996 and was a chart success. But its sequel is Leftfield’s true masterpiece, a flawless, challenging work of art built to outsmart the march of time. Listen closely and you’ll be hooked, never quite able to crack its bewitching code.

1. Dusted
2. Phat Planet
3. Chant of a Poor Man
4. Double Flash
5. El Cid
6. Afrika Shox
7. Dub Gussett
8. Swords
9. 6/8 War
10. Rino’s Prayer

5. Fila Brazillia – ‘Luck Be A Weirdo Tonight’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Downtempo | Tags: | No Comments »

Fila Brazillia - Luck Be A Weirdo Tonight

Fila Brazillia * Luck Be A Weirdo Tonight * 1997 * Pork

The music partnership of Steve Cobby and David McSherry was one of the most prolific in the history of electronica. In the span of twelve years the pair knocked out ten albums, ranging confidently through the swampy borderlands of house, ambient, funk, world, dub and jazz. Old Codes / New ChaosMaim That Tune and Power Clown were three of their finest. But the seamless Luck Be A Weirdo Tonight was Fila Brazillia‘s crowning achievement.

Based in Kingston-upon-Hull, a river town in eastern England, the two met through Pork Recordings, one of the world’s top chill-out labels. Cobby and McSherry were skilled musicians, playing drums, guitar, keyboards and bass. They also used electronics and sampling to excellent and ironic effect, drawing on the samba-rock of Jorge Ben or the hard bop of Art Blakey, dicing beats in hip hop fashion or channeling the ambient strums of Pink Floyd.

“It’s all found objects,” Cobby once told Lotus magazine. “If there is meaning, it’s in your head. It’s like Marcel Duchamp. You make the piece. We’re Dadaists. It’s a happy accident.”

But Fila Brazillia’s organic electronica was far from accidental. Their music carefully weaved discarded sounds with bright new ones, dazzling the mind with a Frankenstein funk powered by the electric charge of their own creative brilliance. And Luck Be A Weirdo Tonight was their Dada masterpiece.

Its clever patterns require active attention and multiple listens to break them open. Dense jazz rhythms and gaseous horns evoke a winding river trip — rushing, overflowing, swirling, floating, easing. Hovering over eddies of syncopation, wah-wah riffs trail through the thick air while synthesizers squiggle like bumblebees on a spring mating path. The first third of the album is all rapids and clears. ‘Billy Goat Groupies’ and ‘Apehorn Concerto’ pick their way through thickets of percussion, crashing drums dropping into tranquil pools of bliss. Opener ‘Lieut. Gingivitis Shit’ bumps to deep bass and lily-pad tones before a howling blues guitar scratches an itch deep down in the soul. The second third of the album picks up the pace. ‘Rustic Bellyflop’ struts to an acoustic guitar that picks its strings like the legs of a spider. ‘Van Allens Belt’ bounces to a slapping groove, its swooping synths taking us off the river shore and into the woods.

A trio of masterstrokes marks the album’s climax. ‘Pollo De Palo’ cruises to an introspective bass line, a suite of winds lifting you up through the trees and into a daydream meadow. ‘Heat Death of the Universe’ flutters until a hopeful melody zips high above, drums and plucking guitar coming to life like excited spectators of a distant rocket launch. It ranks as one of the most moving electronica tracks of all time while the millennial fever of ‘Weasel Out the Muck’ is the consummate funkster. Coming on like tank music from the Vietnam War era, ‘Muck’ kicks off with an evocative voice sample about self-fulfilling prophecies. Its kick drum buckles the breeze under a vapor of violins, a frenzy of keys answered by a guitar line that would make Jimi Hendrix proud. And when you think it can’t get any better, a billowy synth spills out of the air like colored smoke, leaving you dazed in the weeds.

Fila’s excursion through forgotten samples and wild inventions concludes with the coda ‘Do the Hale-Bopp,’ its title alluding to the Hale-Bopp comet sighting of 1997. It’s a dubbed-out jam of rubbery bass and twanging guitar, slowly rising up into the ether — a fitting end to an unforgettable trek through the weird and lovely world of Fila Brazillia.

Adding to the fantastical mischief, Luck Be A Weirdo Tonight‘s cover is one of electronica’s best. When combined with the music, its storybook illustrations echo the psychedelic ardor of nature itself. “Is that a bunny named ‘Luck’ hopping through the forest?” you might ask.

Sadly, Cobby and McSherry would call it quits in 2006. But Luck is an enduring reminder of just how intensely their artistic fire burned, each listen yielding new discoveries in the mental wilderness.

Like a rabbit, that curious spirit is never far away, haunting an acid jazz daydream on the outskirts of everyday life. You just have to cross the fence. And chase it.

1. Lieut. Gingivitis Shit
2. Billy Goat Groupies
3. Apehorn Concerto
4. Hells Rarebit
5. Her Majesties Hokey Cokey
6. Rustic Bellyflop
7. Van Allens Belt
8. Pollo De Palo
9. Heat Death of the Universe
10. Weasel Out the Muck
11. Do the Hale-Bopp