I've always had a tenuous affection for Techno and its various incarnations. There are a lot of constructions to it that appeal to me: rooted in the future, innately subculture-driven, man vs. machine to create music that invokes dancing. The problem with it i tat unless you hit upon something that taps your medulla oblongata on the shoulder like a coke dealer at the right moment, and its hornets nest of cacophony creates a rainbow like vista of pleasure, it for the most part, sucks. And not in a tired "disco sucks" holdover, but in a sense of, if this music is synthetic and cn be built of virtually anything, why does it all sound exactly the same. And then there are all those titrations to wade through, IDM, drum-n-bass, jungle, so many that I never bothered learning the difference or tried to keep current. One recent one , though has caught my eye, and that is the curiously meaningless tag "folktronica." To me, it implies all what I feel is beautiful about this stuff, that its is essentially folk music, made by people by themselves for the support of the culture generally outside the marketplace. It covers a lot of ground, from my Argentine girlfriend Juana Molina's girl-from-Impanema-with-sequencer act to the recent exquisite not-the-slightest-bit-folky beast from laptop ace Four Tet.
Four Tet (the working alias of Kieran Hebden) creates what I can only describe as some truly godhead shit. He pulls from every direction, every cliche techno rabbit is extracted from the hat on this release to make something akin to the Fire Music jazz exhortations from operatives working in Chicago in the 60's. Music that swirls around you like locusts, picks you up and flings you around, surrounded by handclaps and sampled horn section blasting like that of the tanker about to slice through your rowboat. And on top of all that, he is still able to be funky. "A Joy" that opens this beautiful thing starts off with a swirl of whirlpool bass lines, soul claps and a clatter of jazz drums, gradually building intensity to digital refraction without going completely overboard. Then it swings into the sweetest groove De La Soul never delivered on "Smile About the Face" with what sound like the Chipmunks humming a Parliament riff over a network of busy signals forming the center of the thing. "Fuji Check" is a short field recording mix up that servers as the needed break for the masterpiece of the album "Sun Drums and Soil" frothy with syncopated drumming and percolating with whispered samples and aurora borealis synth lines before the horns come in and blow you over with a monsoon of hard bop funk. Perhaps my favorite whatever-tronica track ever.
"Clouding" is a disjointed-in-a-good-way light interlude after all that Nirvana leading into the quasi ambient beat of "And Then Patterns" that to me, is just begging for a rap over it. On this instrumental record, this is the only piece here that seems to be lacking, and honestly its not even lacking. Its just when placed next to the big Steve Reich-in-Playland bounce of "High Fives" and the video game zen of "Turtle Turtle Up" it sounds a little less full. All is rectified however when the Bernie Worell synth burps and flatulence announce the onset of "Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions" get the party started right. Two minutes of buildup work into a tangle of squeaky plastic tubes of sound, working into a tribal drum-machine mayhem stomp that only gets bigger and badder until the robots are finally called to the Earth to destroy us all. The final cool down "You Were there With Me" is a cleansing array of bells and chimes, like the resonating rattle at the temple after the gods shook its foundations.
I haven't felt this way about a techno anything since the double live album from The Orb a decade ago opened my third eye to see what was goin' on in forbidding section of the record store. And since, actually, but whatever. This record is pure bliss, even down to it exquisite CD booklet, all candy lurid printed on ultra glossy photo paper. maybe why these two appeal to me so is that they are techno albums designed for rock audiences instead of just for the ingestion and subsequent sweating out of drugs. I don't know. I'm too old to hit the dancefloor any more without being an embarrassment to my self and community. What I do know is this is one of the brightest and must joyous things I've heard in a long time.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
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