The only real difference between Luke Vibert’s many aliases (the Ace of Clubs, Plug, Kerrier District, Wagon Christ, Amen Andrew and Spac Hand Luke) and those of other electronic artists is that Vibert has such a high profile that all of his projects usually wind up getting attention. It’s odd then that he would release Rhythm under his own name on the Japanese-based Soundofspeed label with distribution thus far only scheduled for Europe and Asia.
This alone might raise suspiscions about the project, were Vibert’s name not to precede him as it does. Even when he is not mind-bending, Vibert is at least interesting, often salvaging misfires with one or two utterly essential tracks. With Rhythm, though, the Cornwall DJ’s release schedule may have caught up with him. It’s an album that’s unusually tepid, even torpid, like a poor man’s Wagon Christ, slowed down by stale beats and…well, stale beats. One can’t help wondering if Rhythm couldn’t have been saved by a serious investment in the album’s namesake.
Vibert is no stranger to rhythm. Almost all of his music has been contingent on strong percussive sections, whether sampled or drawn from scratch. Cutting his teeth on Caspa Pound’s hardcore label Rising High, Vibert’s early Wagon Christ and Plug material exhibited an intricacy and complexity that was admirable even for a scene erected on such things. Later, his “acid” material (in quotes because it wasn’t really acid house proper) under his own name exhibited contortionist funk tendencies and his Amen Andrews and Spac Hand Luke work contained moments that were like hyperspeed juggling with Vic Firths and knives.
Beyond just a workman’s aptitude for finely tuned tweaking trickery, Vibert has always allowed his work to sound vivaciously playful, like a kid with the biggest train set, manifested in the form of the world’s musical library. Rhythm, though, is an album the aforementioned Vibert could have written in his sleep. His conduct is more that of a man trying to a meet a deadline than a giggling teen a wee bit too close to the nitrous tank. It sounds like the dyspeptic album his Ninja Tune peers have been trying to make for years, just eclectic enough to sound conscious and varied, just kitsch enough to be both ironic and reverent, and just inoffensive enough (i.e. distanced enough from hip-hop and dance music) for a hip new restaurant to spin for its metrosexual yuppie clientele. “Concertina Turner”, an upbeat seesaw of upper octave squeals and funk bass, is one of the better tracks on the album, but it’s still inexorably devoted to the 1990s rare-groove obsessive wet dream of synching every half-decent loop to a breakbeat or backbeat. Thus, the majority of syncopation that can be spared on Rhythm can also be predicted before it drops.
Even the bright spots reek of this retrogressive pandering. “Keep Calm and Carry On” could have been an Avalanches B-side, but its alternating brass band and soul sample sound only half as hyperkinetic and zestful as they might have with some real drum muscle behind it. “Eleventy One” is similarly plagued by an obstinate percussion track that taunts the gleeful robo-vocals and electro-infused chorus, which seem to yearn for anthemic liberation in something bigger.
Some tracks even make me wonder if Vibert would have benefitted from abandoning drums altogether. The opening track, the sadly inappropriately named “Wow, It’s New”, serves up a Martin Denny cocktail of bird sounds, fluttery piano, wah wah guitar, synthy in-sounds-from-way-out, and an elaborate rainbow of groovus sampledelia that never leaves the resort for the jungle of psychedelic nature exhibits found on Caribou or Animal Collective albums. Instead, it sounds like the kind of neo-space lounge that might open a round of Katamari Damacy (perhaps the reason why Vibert chose a Japanese label for this material). “Wow” is followed by “Registrarse”, a track that pits a slightly incongruent verse, comprised of slightly euphoric flutes beaconing a Rodgers and Hammerstein morning, versus its chorus, which does a drunken silly walk amidst hits of plunger-muted trumpet. In both of these tracks, which are just fine atmospherically, the beat is so sluggish and uninventive that it practically acts as a kind of hip-hop metronome. As a result, Vibert’s hazy exotica is compromised.
Rhythm on Rhythm seems geared for a divorce or a trial separation where once it used to lay in the same bed and make glorious love with Vibert’s cheeseball synths and makeshift soundbyte layering. Throughout, rhythm is simply going through the motions, with one foot out the door. Worse, trite emcee clichés abound, from the “hold it now” vocal samples, the stuttering “du-du-du-du-dub”, the robots singing into vocoders, that damned dancehall/dubstep alarm sound, and the question posed in The Warriors to its army of delinquent hellraisers; “Can you dig it?!”
Ironically, the question above is answered with a resounding “No, I can’t. I’m sorry but I can’t” by Sparky’s magic piano, the lovable 1960’s music-teaching Sonobox-voiced vinyl icon whose pupil is somewhat cruelly referred to as a “retard” in the song’s title. If Sparky’s piano can’t dig it, why would Vibert expect that we might?
Speaking of an unfortunate choice of words, “My Style” features one of those generic deejay staples of a singer crying out, “This is the neeeeew style”. Both unfortunately and fortunately, it’s not. Instead, it’s a big misfire from an artist who seems unable to stop releasing every semi-clever concoction that runs through his mixing board. The sound samples from We Hear You, the next Vibert solo album to be released mere months after Rhythm promise a return to…rhythm. And not just a return to rhythm, but a return to the integral relationship between the dense modern technological interface and the finely textured specter of past recorded sound. Maybe he’ll even get somebody to remix Rhythm. You know who would be perfect for that task would be that Luke Vibert guy.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.
// Notes from the Road
"Saul Williams played a free, powerful Summerstage show ahead of his appearance at Afropunk this weekend.READ the article