Beginning with a great German electro beat and vocal sample that sound like a promised delivery of the new wave of electro-disco sounds heard everywhere now, Flanger’s first album, Inner Space/Outer Space quickly regresses into the familiar and—at this point—almost bromidic sound that is the foundation for most Ninja Tune artists. The sound I am referring to is that of the blending of jazzy live instruments with light digital programming. It is the sound of Amon Tobin, of DJ Food, and of many of the musicians of the Xen Cuts (ZENCD49X) release of 2000. Granted, everyone has his own take on the style—take, for instance Amon Tobin’s dark and dingy sound versus DJ Food’s jocular cut-ups—but this reviewer finds that the pleasure derived from and innovations emerging from within the acid drum & bass genre have dried up and formed a rut from which some artists haven’t yet emerged.
The title track, in five minutes and 35 seconds, briefly summarizes the direction of the rest of the album. It quickly dismantles itself into a percussive groove dressed in computer layers and is perhaps stuck between the two locales of its title. “Inner Space/Outer Space” is dominated by funky Latin percussion that erases all memories of the progressive electro dance beat that introduces the track, and Flanger’s occasional programming alteration do nothing more than give the track a dubby fusion overtone.
For the remainder of the album, the experimental efforts that brought jazz to a new world, like the Rhodes keyboard, link the analog instruments to programmer Burnt Friedman’s percussive cut-ups. Friedman emulates great percussive solos, but leaves the question, “To what end?” Although he occasionally piles many rhythms on top of one another, his snare rushes are too frightened to go over the speed limit for long, and it sounds almost as if he is truly attempting to make the listener believe he is not fragmenting and re-sampling when he is.
Like many of the tracks, “Le Dernier Combat” opens interestingly with an electronic framework. An aggressive yet unobtrusive static blends with soft percussive trinkets until we cannot tell them apart, but before we have time to seriously scrutinize the composition, it opens again into the percussion, bass, and keys triad, accompanied by occasional electro-interruptions.
Flanger has an insecurity that prevents their first record, Inner Space/Outer Space, from shedding a skin that has become far too leathery. Not confident enough to remain a free-form percussive jam, the album relies on its electronic aspects to fill a number of gaps. But also not confident enough to declare and outright desire to include electronics and computers, Inner Space / Outer Space only steps out of the shadows on a few, short-lived occasions.
Unfortunately, Flanger’s sound works in a manner similar to an actual flanger guitar pedal. When used at precisely the right moment, it is a godsend, letting the music be taken away into outer space. But when used too often, not enough, or at the wrong time, it is a loose gas line, leaving the space ship grounded.