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DJ Olive

Heaps As: Live in Tasmania

(Agriculture; US: 4 Apr 2006; UK: 3 Apr 2006)

Plum Out of Ideas

There are a lot of DJs out there who are dying to get attention. Some of them will release fat (phat?) beats to get their name out in the elite ring of rap go-to producers (Neptunes-level! Kanye-level!). Some will make old rock samples work as big beat floor burners (Daft Punk-level! Fatboy-level!). Some just like making cut-n-paste masterpieces that challenge the very notion of genre (DJ Shadow-level! Avalanches-level!). And then there are those who are content just being well-known, making interesting albums but not furthering the boundaries of music by any means. We have now reached DJ Olive’s level.


While Olive has run with some elite company (John Zorn, Jim O’Rourke), he is perhaps best known for sharing a one-off release with percussionist Ikue Mori and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, the only release on Sonic Youth’s SYR-imprint that wasn’t by Sonic Youth. The album is a nocturnal journey into weirdness, avant-garde experimentalism, and general all-about studio fuckery. Olive threw a few interesting hats into that ring, but the project didn’t congeal in the long-run, instead remaining a distinctive collector’s item. Yet, when left to his own devices on Heaps As, Live in Tasmania, he simply cannot overcome a wall that one would think would be easily demolished by him: generality.


Though props should be given to this live release for practically eliminating crowd noise altogether (making it sound like a genuine studio album), such a technical feat is lost in the sea of blandness that is released in Tasmania. Though his skills as a live improviser have been well documented, here there are no signs of wild openness with his material: he simply adds layers to other layers that were fine as they were. The faint Latin-horn sample at the start of “Dancing With Poxy Stingers” gives way to a watery drum beat … and that’s it. A slight change to a keyboard happens in the final third, but you otherwise have just been subjugated to music better suited for a waiting room. The title track rides a catchy electric-keyboard groove for roughly 90 seconds before devolving into mindless percussion exercises (which half the tracks are unforgivably guilty of). At least “Snail Trail in My Arms” plays drum taps against some fluffy keyboard movements, but this is an exception rather than the rule.


Overall, it is apparent that Olive suffers from lacking any sense of dynamics. In an unfair contrast (that however remains pertinent), a DJ Shadow session with radio personality Nic Harcourt showed that Shadow could improvise wildly with his selections, tossing in things as rare as a rapper rhyming the periodic table of elements together over a shifting drumline that moved from basement-recorded to near-orchestral on hairpin turns.  Even the Chemical Brothers have managed to spice up and dynamically rearrange some of their better, well-known arrangements to make their live shows worth attending. Olive, however, only unleashes pretty acoustic-plucking loops in “They Make Us All Want to Hate Each Other, Don’t Do It!” … and then repeats them for the entire song. He makes admiral attempts to be interesting with “Lila Dog” and the 10-minute closing epic “Time for You…”, but can’t even keep that kind of momentum going for long.


As a chill-out CD, it’s a fine—if not completely memorable—piece of work. As an artistic statement, it’s not memorable at all. Even the jokes of Tasmanian Devil cartoons are fresher than what you experience here. Change of location, perhaps?

Rating:

Evan Sawdey started contributing to PopMatters in late 2005, and has also had his work featured in publications such as SLUG Magazine, The Metro (U.K.), Soundvenue Magazine (Denmark), the Daily Dot, and multiple national newspapers. Evan has been a guest on WNYC's Soundcheck (an NPR affiliate), was the Executive Producer for the Good With Words: A Tribute to Benjamin Durdle album (available for free at GoodWithWordsAlbum.com), and wrote the liner notes for the 2011 re-release of Andre Cymone's hit 1985 album A.C. (Big Break Records), the 2012 re-release of 'Til Tuesday's 1985 debut Voices Carry, and many others. He is a current member of The Recording Academy and resides in Chicago, Illinois. You can follow him @SawdEye should you be so inclined.


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