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BEN MONO [Photo: Jochen Helfert]
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Ben Mono

Hit the Bit

(Compost; US: 5 Jun 2007; UK: 4 Jun 2007)

Hit the Bit, the sophomore offering from German producer/DJ Ben Mono—AKA Paul Beller—is more than just an album.  It’s a futuristic manifesto of Mono’s self-pioneered electronic genre, “bit-hop”.  Combining the minimalist, German approach to creating synthesized soundscapes, Mono splatters the spartan hip-hop all over with technotronic beats that fill every corner of the song. 


While “bit-hop” possesses a definite dance-minded sensibility, the scurrying torrents of beats are still ambient enough to qualify as Trance at times throughout Hit the Bit.


Voiced by a cast of collaborating characters that, for the most part, get a crack at several songs on the album, Hit the Bit sticks to the singular theme of a futuristic hip-hop world.  At times, the lyrical content of the tracks reflect this premise and at others, it’s Mono’s production that accomplishes effect.  While soundwise, bit-hop lends itself to this sort of spacey concept, at times, Hit the Bit spins off into a clichéd version of the future, or the idea of how the future may sound.


Jemini—in this case, not the frequent Danger Mouse collaborator, but instead, a female rapper/vocalist by the same name—lays down the opening and closing tracks in a spaceotronic and sometimes unintentionally eerie intonation.  The futuristic female voice on the disc’s intro conjures an image of finely-woven, widescreen-projected pixelated woman in sterile tones of white with not a touch of grey in sight, speaking in a voice possessed of a disturbing calm before delving further into the meat and potatoes of Hit the Bit


One of the album’s repeat guest artists, Jemini’s vocals and rhymes are among some of the disc’s best tracks.  While I’ve often pondered the question “Is it wrong to hope for something deep to dance to?”, Jemini muses that “Jesus Was a B-Boy” and expands upon a certain messiah’s penchant for hip-hop music, skateboarding, and graffiti art.  While “Jesus Was a B-Boy” isn’t exactly Deepak Chopra material, it’s an amusing track that offers a well-fleshed, intriguing scenario.  Although I still wonder why most electronica does not even attempt to give the listener something even mildly thought-provoking to walk—or float—away with, the standout track is as good as it gets with Jemini’s delivery and lyrics bordering on that of a beat poet on open mike night at a hip-hopster café. 


Jemini also makes another appearance on “Indonesian Interlude”, one of several pieces on the disc that revolve around primal beats with a hint of the Orient.  The vibrant-sounding title track “Hit the Bit” is also laced with Asian technopop featuring Yo Majesty on vocals.  The gyrating, quick-and-dirty party anthem carries an ‘80s dance feel, almost like Jodi Watley amped on ephedrine.


Mono favors a fusion of several styles of world music ranging from African tribal to Asian techno pop, most notably on “Beatbox”, with clapping beats running up against Capitol A’s vocals.  The result is so futuristic sounding that it actually becomes old school with rudimentary beeps, blips, and robotic talk-box vocals filling the track with sound.


Sometimes, Mono’s musical vision (Oh, the irony!) goes overboard with the effects and becomes grating.  The system shorts out and goes haywire on “Binary Poetry”, with both Mono and the listener becoming trapped in a less industrial version of The Matrix, thanks in part to the blatant abuse of a robotic talk box voice utilized on several points throughout Hit the Bit.  Where the effect works as a side-dish, the track groans under the weight of an entire main course.  “Binary Poetry” isn’t totally irredeemable, however, playing around with interesting combinations of sound akin to a plinking pinball machine racking up digitized points as heavy chords at the deep end of a piano enhance the electronic beats.  While lyrically, the robotic vocals are a miss, the slow groove achieves Mono’s mission to lay the groundwork for his new genre.


While the concept of bit-hop as an album and a genre holds an entirely new realm of possibilities, sometimes Mono gets caught up in what seems to be electronic masturbation, using too many effects to fill the spaces in his trippy, beat-heavy, and atmospheric tracks.  “Blindsweep” is heavy-handed with warped samples of beats and vocals that sound as if they were jacked from Eurythmics in their heyday and run through a processor/meat grinder several times before being plugged into the song.


That’s not to say that all of the possibilities presented on Hit the Bit are bogged down by an overabundance of technophilia.  The bulk of the tracks are a mixed bag of goodies that, in spite of their differences, continue with the album’s cohesive theme.  The head-bobbing “Listen” is oddly mesmerizing, with Capitol A’s mellow voice working well against Mono’s frantic, yet kicked-back soundscapes before seamlessly flowing into the next song, the vastly different and completely pervertlicious “Pull ‘Em Down”.  Bliss and Main-Flow are an energetic tag team on the catchy “Don’t Stop”, a yang to the yin of “Midnight Sun” with Jason Todd, rippling with a hip-goth feel.


The track that ties everything together, “Transmission”, serves as a nice nod to P-Funk forefather George Clinton with chants of “We want the funk” beamed straight down from the Mother Ship itself and stands as a Bowie-esque, hip-hop “Space Oddity”.  The track simultaneously fits the album’s futuristic theme and blends the slowed-down tempo and furious torrent of beats that Mono’s bastard Son of Funkenstein-like bit-hop creation and gives it life.

Rating:

Lana Cooper has written various reviews and features for PopMatters since 2006. She's also written news stories for EDGE Media, a nationwide network devoted to LGBT news and issues. In 2013, she wrote her first novel, Bad Taste In Men, described as one part chick lit for tomboys and one part Freaks and Geeks for kids who came of age in the mid-'90s. She lives in Philadelphia and enjoys spending time with her family, reading comic books, and avoiding eye contact with strangers on public transportation. A graduate of Temple University, Cooper doesn't usually talk about herself in the first person, but makes an exception when writing an author bio.


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