This week's hot 5 (Part I)
Marcus Intalex-Fabriclive 35 (Fabric) (UK)
Drum & bass is definitely not a go-to style for me as a DJ nor as a listener. What was once an interesting twist on technology (and ironically where most techno producers thought the genre was headed in the mid-1990s) has devolved into one of the most formulaic and least exciting of all the sounds in the electronic music spectrum right up there with second wave trance. Undeniably mistakes were made but veteran Manchester artist Marcus Intalex and the always on-point Fabric imprint are sending a powerful wake-up call about the state of today's drum & bass. I honestly thought most of the talented tastemakers had fled the genre in favor of dubstep, nu booty, or worse- breaks but after listening to some LTJ Bukem mixes online recently I've realized that there is a vital scene filled with the soulful strains of ol skool ragga mixed with minimal clicks and pops to give it a modern feel that still maintains momentum but is actually danceable. The sound on Intalex's Fabriclive mix seems to indicate that drum & bass has pulled out of headbanger junction leaving cats like Dieselboy and Dara behind in search of some roots especially on the Smith & Mighty influenced "Hustlin'" by Calibre not to mention the psychedelicized "Amen" soul of Mistical's "Time To Fly". Good vocal tracks abound on Fabriclive 35 and dynamite contributions from veterans like Johnny L and Calibre stand along side cuts from fresh new faces like Alix Perez making this journey both a nostalgic look back at the past and brave plunge into the future of the music if it is to survive. Viva le resurgence, long live drum & bass.
Bitter:Sweet-The Remix Game (Quango) (US)
Last year's The Mating Game received tons of critical praise and even found its way into the Microsoft Zune ad campaign during the Xmas season. While others described Bitter:Sweet's debut as the second coming of Portishead I will go on record as saying that the album just didn't have the same impact on me like the first time I heard "Sour Times" or "The Mysterons". Perhaps that has to do with the fact that the P-heads once owned the genre of trip-hop and so quickly ran the formula into the ground to the point where those dope DJ Shadow beats suddenly had zero impact on my psyche. How could a third generation clone have any possible impact on me? Well they didn't, that is until I got a copy of The Remix Game courtesy of my nice friends at LC Media who seem to work exclusively with Bruno Guez' haute couture imprint Quango (not a bad thing in my opinion). I was forced to re-listen to all of those songs that I had initally dismissed as lightweight and found myself all wrapped up in vocalist Shana Halligan's subtle phrasing and breathy delight that had a darkness not reminiscent of Tracey Thorn or Beth Gibbons but more like a Patti Smith. A voice that can best be described as iron fists wrapped in velvet gloves with a concealed tickle of evil that I found heady and inticing. What's more, top downtempo producers re-worked Kiran Shahani's arrangements into something a little less adult contemporary and ponytailed out. Legendary (and when I say legendary, I mean LEGENDARY) reggae producer Dennis "Blackbeard" Bovell's remix of "Overdue" really sets the benchmark of quality on this collection with a dubbed out deconstruction that is both fresh and hook-laden. Others such as Mark Rae's Yes King, Skeewif, AtJazz, and the nearly omnipresent Fort Knox Five all turn in some solid contributions that really add something to Bitter:Sweet's originals that are undeniably great. Overall I'd say this collection made me rethink my opinions of the duo turning me from hater to fan which is rare with a compilation of remixes. But whatever the reason these twelve re-rubs helped inject some dancefloor edge into Bitter:Sweer where it was once lacking and the up & coming Los Angeles duo is all the better for it.
Zeph & Azeem-Rise Up (OM Hip Hop)(US)
Generally I would say run me over with a bus before making me listen to a new hip-hop release. Not that I am a hip-hop disser, in fact if you were to drill to my molten core you would certainly find evidence of crucial jams by Gang Starr, BDP, Public Enemy, and Bambaataa fueling my very essence. For many years I was still championing brand new backpacker releases-well that was before Common and Mos Def followed in the footsteps of Ja Rule and DMX by re-inventing themselves as "actors" (and boy, what "actors" all four of them are) and Talib Kweli and DJ Shadow both foisting piece of sh*t albums on us unsuspecting rap lovers recently. Lately I am left feeling morally bankrupt about a genre that once held my complete attention. What's a guy to do if he wants to hear a good jam and get his b-boy on? Apparently I have to turn to OM's spin-off label OM Hip Hop, with its focus on high quality productions made for dancing. In an era totally dominated by bling and the emecee it was thrilling just to look at the Run DMC meets Angela Davis cover art of Rise Up. Unfortunately my own rap biases had me sleeping on this release much longer than I should have been. Picking up where conteporary groups like Jurassic 5 and Blackalicious have left off, Zeph & Azeem fuse dancehall vibes with organic beats and when necessary MPC-powered old school electro jams. The rhymes are always fresh and positive with a definite San Francisco DIY attitude that I found welcome without being overly granola ala Michael Franti. The rugged energy of the DJ/MC duo is almost shocking in the age of "phoning it in" recalls legendary "golden age" duos like KRS One and Scott La Rock, Guru and Premier, and of course Eric B and Rakim. If that isn't enough to entice you than you probably just aren't feeling hip-hop.
Johnny Fiasco-Nectar Vol. 2 (Agave) (US)
Johnny's one of those guys who has been doing the Chicago house thing forever, his tracks seem to be on everyone's charts but he has always been a little hit-or-miss with me mostly because I felt he was always trying to cover too many styles of house music. My wife & I had an opportunity to see Fiasco live last year and let me tell you it was a treat as he coalesced all of those diverse production styles into an eclectic mess o' funk. Unfortunately, Nectar Vol. 2 doesn't capture much of Fiasco's live energy by hewing closer to the standard mix disk format line. You know the one: groovy intro, builds momentum, peaks, and then cools down. The peak hour tracks from Sound Republic, Inland Knights, and Jason Merle are fresh owing more to the West Coast bounce coming from the Dirtybird imprint than anything Chicago influenced but most of the tracks are pretty standard issue Windy City deep house. Fortunately the downtempo lounge of Jazzanova's remix of another soon-to-be-classic by Ian Pooley called "What's Your Number" that closes Nectar saves the whole affair by adding a nice capper to what would normally be a slightly above average mix.
Uberzone-Ideology (Nitrus) (US)
Last time I heard from the mysterious Q aka Uberzone was on a spirited but stone cold boring live mix from Moonshine Music circa 2002. This guy, along with Icey, once owned the coastal breaks scene but has since sorta disappointingly faded into obscurity. I suppose Ideology represents a bit of a comeback from a guy whose singles "Botz" and "The Freaks" on the City Of Angels once defined a generation of raving. Q is a real studio craftsman constructing every sound from scratch, which probably has slowed his output considerably. But while other gifted studio talents have surpassed him in commercial success (Crystal Method) and critical praise (BT) that has left Q to continue to do what he does best-bash out sweaty man breaks. Nothing new to report on Ideology except a lot of nifty vocal tricks and tricky tempo shifts courtesy of Native Instrument's Reaktor. Overall, the album has a nice, modern techy feel but most of the breaks sound tired and the second half of the album from "Geisha" onward is noodly, half-finished ideas shit. I felt that there was probably only enough material for a really strong EP but the idea to pad the album with filler material makes the whole thing a big ol' flop that made absolutely no impact on me once the good tracks like "Satisfaction" were over.