13. The KLF – ‘Chill Out’

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

KLF - 'Chill Out'

The KLF * Chill Out * 1990 * KLF Communications / Wax Trax!

The KLF (or Kopyright Liberation Front) were the ultimate rebel act. Post-punk pranksters, Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond gleefully tweaked all corporate expectations of their insanely popular sound. They took the anarchic punk ethic far beyond its rock origins, embracing dance rhythms and prog rock, ripping off samples in broad daylight and often getting away with it.

Their exploits are legendary. Performing at England’s Helter Skelter rave in outdoor Oxfordshire in 1989, they demanded their pay upfront and then showered the crowd with one-pound notes, each scribbled with ‘Children we love you.’ Voted the Best British Group by BPI‘s annual BRIT Awards in 1992, they fired blanks at the audience of a London awards ceremony and delivered a sheep carcass and eight gallons of blood to the hotel lobby of the after-party. And in 1994, they reportedly made the largest cash withdrawal in UK history, nailing 1,000,000 pounds to a board. They then burned their ‘Nailed to the Wall‘ art piece and its massive cash sum on the island of Jura, in the presence of a journalist and cameraman.

But their controversial pranks were earned. The KLF are best known for their ‘Stadium House Trilogy,’ three ridiculously fun dance anthems that smashed the pop charts in 1990 and 1991: ‘What Time Is Love?, ’3 A.M. Eternal’ and ‘Last Train to Trancentral.’ But the album these singles are featured on, The White Room, is not their masterpiece.

Before their breakout success, Cauty and Drummond recorded the classic Chill Out, THE ambient manifesto of the ’90s. It was the blueprint for all chill out albums that followed, especially The Orb‘s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, which Cauty would help kick-start.

Based on travelogue recordings from a road trip along North America’s Gulf Coast — including birds, trains and radio news of a deadly drag race — Chill Out channeled everything from Elvis Presley and country music to Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac. Recorded live, it eases the listener into a swamp of fussy and serene sounds, all adhering to a hidden logic frequented by flashes of intense revelation.

Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’ and 808 State‘s ‘Pacific State’ mingle on ‘The Lights of Baton Rouge Pass By’ while the steel guitar strums of ‘Madrugada Eterna’ map a lonesome inner bliss amid freight trains. And ‘Wichita Lineman Was a Song I Once Heard’ builds to the joyful symphonic refrains of their later hit ‘Last Train to Trancentral,’ sounding like acid house casked in the Deep South.

But what makes Chill Out such a timeless album is Cauty and Drummond’s flawless instincts for mayhem and peace. They mellow you out and wake you up at the same time. And their wicked sense of humor and wide-eyed experimentation buoy a world-weary melancholy that suffuses the whole affair.

In 1992, The KLF voluntarily bowed out of the pop limelight. Despite subsequent projects and one-offs, they mostly stayed silent on the music front. But their subversive acts continued. In 1996, for example, Cauty faced a lawsuit from a farmer who claimed Cauty’s outdoor sound experiments were so loud they traumatized his cows. Cauty was apparently testing a custom-built “audio weapon system.”

Which goes to show once again, while Chill Out aims to soothe, the chaps behind it were anything but chill in the head. Feverish and earnest, The KLF never compromised. And they never failed to astound.

1. Brownsville Turnaround on the Tex-Mex Border
2. Pulling Out of Ricardo and the Dusk Is Falling Fast
3. Six Hours to Louisiana, Black Coffee Going Cold
4. Dream Time in Lake Jackson
5. Madrugada Eterna
6. Justified and Ancient Seems a Long Time Ago
7. Elvis on the Radio, Steel Guitar in My Soul
8. 3AM Somewhere Out of Beaumont
9. Wichita Lineman Was a Song I Once Heard
10. Trancentral Lost in My Mind
11. The Lights of Baton Rouge Pass By
12. A Melody from a Past Life Keeps Pulling Me Back
13. Rock Radio Into the Nineties and Beyond
14. Alone Again with the Dawn Coming Up

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