British electronica gurus Eat Static bust out all over the place on their latest, Crash and Burn! Expanding far beyond their familiar techno/acid trance palette, Merv Pepler, Joie Hinton and Steve Everitt toss in heavy doses of Eastern exotica, spy movie soundtracks, Latin hip-shakers and even hip-hop turntablism in a self-proclaimed effort to create “a journey from the 14th to the 21st century, straddling generations of music”. As you might expect, they fall short of so ambitious a goal, but never mind. Crash and Burn! is uneven at times, but overall it’s a wildly entertaining disc, buoyed by some smart collaborations and a great sense of humor.
Fans of Eat Static’s early techno jams might be surprised by how much Crash and Burn! leans toward space-age bachelor pad sounds, but anyone familiar with Pepler and Hinton’s earlier work on Ozric Tentacles knows that these guys have always had strong influences outside the world of electronica. Loungecore rave-ups like the title track and the irresistibly groovy “Mondo a Go-Go!” (think Henry Mancini meets the B-52’s) may be new territory for them, but that seems to be a good thing. These cuts bristle with more energy and originality than more conventional Eat Static tracks like “Holy War”, which segues a majestic Middle Eastern march into a surprisingly pedestrian Goa trance riff, or “Nocturnal Umbra”, which has a few interesting Eastern and orchestral flourishes but relies too heavily on a by-the-numbers techno backbeat.
Other great moments on Crash and Burn! come with the aid of some well-chosen collaborators. “Elixir”, the album’s closing track, was co-written and produced by Andy Guthrie of Medicine Drum and Banco de Gaia fame, and features his trademark dense, psychedelic sound to great effect, especially over two dark, trippy breakbeat segments. “The Curious Dr. Hump” is an entertaining, albeit brief, romp through horror movie soundtrack territory with Steve Jolliffe of Tangerine Dream, who also contributes some flashy sax and flute to the title track. Another two cuts feature Will White of the Propellerheads, putting his turntable skills to work and injecting an interesting big beat/hip-hop vibe into the proceedings—more effectively on the loungetronica grooves of “Heaven Scent” than on the cluttered postmodern soundscape of “Dervish Funk”.
So many disparate sounds crammed onto one disc could easily become a stylistic jumble, but what ultimately holds Crash and Burn! together is Eat Static’s giddy sense of humor. On most of the album’s tracks, you can really hear Pepler, Hinton and Everitt having fun with their kitchen-sink approach, interjecting corny embellishments and unexpected sonic collisions at just the right moments—a hilariously over-the-top guitar solo on “Crash and Burn!”, a cheesy cocktail lounge organ amidst the Latin/Cuban congas and trumpets of “Love Truncheon”. Even less successful tracks are still highlighted by moments of real cleverness—check out Will White’s witty cartoon soundtrack samples on “Dervish Funk”, for example, or the way an “Arabian Nights” vamp on “Holy War” accelerates into an almost spastic self-parody and finally into the lead riff on the track’s Goa/techno section. Give Eat Static points for boundless creativity, even when they don’t quite hit the mark. Crash and Burn! is about as unique an album as you’re likely to hear this year.