“We ask that you relax and feel the rhythm at all times. Please make sure that your seat backs are in their upright and locked position as we prepare for takeoff . . .”
An album intro riffing on a flight attendant’s pre-flight instructions. Very cute. Only, they don’t mention that the massive beats heard on DJ Aphrodite’s new album Aftershock can cause some major turbulence.
Aphrodite, AKA Gavin King, returns three years after his eponymous debut album with another “jump-up” opus, his own catchy offshoot of the drum’n'bass movement. Utilizing intense, hyperkinetic breakbeats, basslines so wobbly you’d have to have a spine like Plasticman’s to dance to, creative sampling, with small doses of hip-hop, ragga, and world music thrown in, King, er, should I say, Aphrodite, has pretty much cornered the whole jump-up market. Much more accessible and fun than the more hardcore offshoots of drum’n'bass, Aftershock takes its time warming up to you, but given a few spins, this album at times, if I may lamely stick with the whole airplane theme for another second, takes off.
One refreshing aspect of Aftershock is Aphrodite’s emphasis on melody; in fact, pure melodic vibe is stressed to the point where all the guest vocals used on the album are hardly “guest vocals” at all. Instead of people popping in to lay down a vocal track to a piece already written (see Beth Orton’s and Noel Gallagher’s guest appearances with the Chemical Brothers), Aphrodite takes vocal tracks he previously recorded with different people (often a cappella), and uses them as the centerpiece of the songs, around which he builds the intoxicating rhythm tracks, cutting and pasting at will, and in some cases, such as the track “Be With Me”, he uses time stretching to fit the vocals the way he wants. The result is a typically, heavily rhythmic, yet remarkably tuneful drum’n'bass record.
“Heat Haze” is a terrific example of Gavin King’s skill at chopping up various vocal tracks, and piecing together a song that’s both sultry, with its snippets of female sighs and “yeahs”, and menacing, with its rumbling bass and jungle beats. The entrancing “Calcutta” betrays a heavily Indian influence, utilizing swirling, chanting vocals, traditional percussion and sitar snippets, and combining them with an uptempo, high beat-per-minute rhythm track. “Wobble”, one of the only tracks on the album not to feature vocal samples, is a nasty bit of music, living up to its title, with every aspect of the song sounding elasticized, with Aphrodite pulling and stretching the sounds at will, creating a song tailor-made for the slinky-spined. Things get ultra-steamy with “Karma Sutra”; using ecstatic female moans as samples is hardly an original idea, but Aphrodite makes it work, creating one of the hottest bits of electronica you’ll hear.
The hip-hop element surfaces on four of the album’s 18 tracks. Over a blaring siren and a classic, old-school drum machine thump, Rah Diggah contributes a rap that in the end serves no other purpose than to add to the whole circa-1986 vibe, before Aphrodite kicks in some major jungle thumps midway through the song. Aphrodite manages to recruit the services of none other than Big Daddy Kane on “Off Limits”, using the cut-and-paste technique to good effect, but his use of an effective piano sample can’t save “Hoochie”, on which Schooly D pipes in with some rather unoriginal lines peppered with the ubiquitous “ho” talk and “nigga-nigga-nigga” blatherings that make badly done hip-hop so dull. Working the best is the album-closer “See Thru It”, where female hip-hopper Wildflower’s vocal samples mesh perfectly with Aphrodite’s combination of mellow synth and frenetic beats.
It’s the ragga influence, though, that makes for some of Aftershock‘s most enjoyable moments. Barrington Levy is a strong presence on “All Over Me”, as Aphrodite peppers Levy’s husky-voiced Jamaican rap over a snappy sample of Levy’s own composition, “Under Me Sensei” that interweaves with a relentless breakbeat rhythm. Even better, though, is “Ganja Man”, featuring vocalist Deadly Hunta, whose ragga howls are mixed with a cool sample lifted from Lauryn Hill’s “Everything Is Everything”.
The best moment of Aftershock is the aforementioned “Be With Me”. Dutch singer Miss Bunty gives a seductive, jazzy vocal delivery, as Aphrodite adds some incredible-sounding backwards strings, a trippy, leisurely beat, and an equally lugubrious bassline. “Be With Me” is a satisfying respite from all the relentless drum ‘n’ bass tracks, adding some much-needed depth and variety to an album that goes on for 75 minutes.
Aftershock makes for a pleasurable listen (its biggest fault is that it goes on a bit too long), but it’s stuff we’ve all heard before (the drum’n'bass genre peaked with Goldie’s “Inner City Life”, way back in 1995). Aphrodite doesn’t care, though; he’s content to keep on making his trademark jump-up music with his aging Commodore Amiga 1200 computer, conjuring up tracks with the same old super-staccato rhythms and massive, floor-rattling basslines that he’s been doing for years. It doesn’t stray very far from the original formula, but Gavin King shows he’s more than willing to throw in some new touches here and there. It’s all good, harmless fun, and that’s all he wants for us.