Watch Out, Radioactive Man! Time Is Getting Away!
Keith Tenniswood is a busy man, what with his day job in perennial Warp favorite Two Lone Swordsmen and running the Control Tower label, DJing, collaborating with some of the industry’s biggest names, and all that jazz. He can’t be blamed for letting five years creep between releases of his Simpsonian side project. Unlike fellow music reference to Bart’s favorite comic Fall Out Boy, Keith doesn’t bang out a bunch of half-baked ironic pop club fodder every year to keep the paycheques flowing the right direction. Radioactive Man is a worthy craftsman of the highest regard. As such, and with the sizable lapse in mind, the expectations mounted in wait for the release of Growl, and though not necessarily exceeded, they are easily met from the word go.
The record kicks off with “Basement Business”, a pure bass downtempo chugger in the Luke Vibert vein. Subtle glimpses of guitar, synthetic strings, static pops, and what sounds like a rusty washboard spice up the Vibert hip-hop beat and an intricate-but-thin synth loop (later enveloped by a more extroverted acid lead) to make the cut equal to Luke’s vision and not mere parody. “Pieces of Eight” follows that with an old school drum machine beat, augmented by a grumbling bassline similar to the darker work of Jason Sparks, only a hair on the slow side for breaks. The canned strings make another appearance a few minutes in, but this track is all about the lower frequencies first and foremost. If your windshield doesn’t have a crack in it now, it will after this cut starts pumping.
Showing a desire to expand his horizons, Tenniswood’s third solo album features a couple of unprecedented vocal tracks. His partner in crime and swordsmanship Andrew Weatherall sings about loving the hateful on “Double Dealing” without ever sounding hippy-dippy and/or wishy-washy. That song is based around a solemn lead, acid bubbles, a heavily filtered guitar bassline, and digital foghorn honks collected in breakbeat form, while Weatherall’s moody vocals strained through effects compliment the tone. Dot Allison’s contribution is practically the polar opposite. The instrumental for “Nothin’ at All” sounds like ‘80s synth pop bolstered by a more prominent beat, over which Dot sighs wasted day lyrics in line with the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’”. Both vocal tracks add some nice variety to the tracklisting, but Radioactive Man needs no words to express himself. He lives by the power of his instrumentals, up and atom.
“Dalston to Detroit” bends aged techno to his end, with percussion lifted from the Miami Vice theme made deceptive by a synth lead that sounds as if it’s on a warped tape and being manipulated by hand. “State of That” follows the future dancehall lead the Bug laid out on London Zoo with steady pulsing bass and mutated synths, eventually elevating with fractured percussion and a ghostly keyboard. Of course, the title track is worthy of note. “Growl” lives up to its name with another tense Botchit Breaks bassline accented by a comical twitter that stays solid no matter what octave the bass is sent to. Like “Pieces of Eight”, the rest of the track is hardly worth mentioning. It’s all about the growl.
However, as solid as Growl is, one can’t be blamed for possibly feeling a little under-whelmed by the proceedings. The record stands up compared to his first two, as well as to the work of his contemporaries, but the fact that Tenniswood had five years to put this thing together is hard to ignore for dedicated followers. I don’t think it’s being overly greedy to expect something just a little more transcendent and awe inspiring given the timeframe. The effects of anticipation aside, Growl is a compilation of tracks developed between 2004-2008 in the gaps of a busy schedule. It’s a feat and a testament to Tenniswood’s consistency and skill that the album sounds like an album at all. Catharsis through electronic music is not a promise, but use of this record to create well-lubricated and patron-worthy dancefloors are a guarantee you can bank the US economy on. Here’s hoping for a quicker turnaround between releases next time.
- Multiple songs MySpace