It took a while for Lemon Jelly to grow on me, but man, am I glad they did. 2002’s Lost Horizons is definitely one of the highlights of the decade so far, a sweeping, shimmering gem of an album that continues to grow in stature with every listen. As I said, I did not initially warm to them. I had not been terribly impressed by 2001’s Lemonjelly.ky album when it first appeared (although I have since reappraised my opinion of that as well), but Lost Horizons was simply too perfect to overlook. Sometimes you need to listen to something a few times before it makes sense: I have no problem admitting that I am wrong when I am wrong.
I don’t think I will need to listen to ‘64-‘95 many times before deciding if I like it. It is a fantastic album, no less so than the one before it. The fundaments of their sound remain remarkably similar, even if their raw materials are markedly different.
Lost Horizons was built atop a scaffolding of delicate rural soundscapes, with sweet acoustic samples and a hint of sun-kissed psychedelia. ‘64-‘95 is a much more aggressive affair, however, with a strong rock edge and a bevy of (comparatively) harder dance beats. It’s a concept album of sorts, with the concept being that Lemon Jelly have been around since the early ‘60s, and that this is their long-awaited greatest hits, spanning the years from 1964 to 1995. Appropriately, each track has a corresponding date, and each date gives you a hint as to just what kind of samples the group used in their composition.
Therefore, the album’s first song, “‘88 AKA Come Down On Me”, sounds like an unknown slab of late ‘80s British acid, complete with squiggly 303 lines. It also sounds like the song was pieced together with samples from late ‘80s pop, including cheesy hair-metal power chords and Who-lite synthesizer lines. It’s more complicated a piece than this cut’n'paste description implies, but the fact is that the illusion of anachronism is never really very convincing. As much as certain songs may give circumstantial relation to their corresponding time period, there is also a certain amount of fudging required: “‘68 AKA Only Time” certainly sounds as if there could have been some late ‘60s acoustic folk in its DNA, but the modern breakbeats and processed vocals are something of an anomaly for the period. It’s hardly enough of a problem to mar the album, but as concepts go it’s slightly unconvincing.
But, if you can forgive their slightly daft play acting (and certainly, if we forgave Daft Punk for dressing like robots, we can forgive Lemon Jelly), this is a marvelous record. Lemon Jelly are the masters of the slow build: they introduce certain sounds and elements, allowing them to percolate and ferment, slowly gaining momentum until the track has mustered up quite an impressive head of steam. You can see this on “‘93 AKA Don’t Stop Now”, which begins with an unassuming hip-house-circa-1993 break, adds some breathy Soul II Soul vocals, and layer upon layer of cascading synthesizer lines, until some six minutes have passed and the track has built to a subtly powerful crescendo.
“‘95 AKA Make Things Right” is a delicious homage to early trip-hop (with perhaps a side dish of Britpop), with a series of spry acoustic guitars set against shambling, slow drumbeats. It’s a bit more chipper than Massive Attack circa Protection, but it was obviously constructed from the same kind of blueprint. The dichotomy between murky drumbeats and the pastoral acoustic and vocal elements is definitely a reminder of the early days of Morcheeba.
“‘79 AKA The Shouty Track” is an evocation of the kind of post-glam heavy metal that prospered in Britain in the wake of punk: stuff like Judas Priest and maybe even a little bit of Def Leppard. “‘75 AKA Stay With You” wants to be an early disco number—it has the kind of melancholy minor-key guitar elements you heard so often in ‘70s pop—but the beat is obviously as indebted to Akufen as it is to Donna Summer.
Ultimately, ‘64-95’ is an imperfect evocation of the eras it purports to represent, but that hardly matters. The fact is that when listening to this album the first time around, you should pay absolutely no attention to whatever fake dates are attached on the package (and I definitely wouldn’t want to give away the surprise vocal cameo on the last track). Just listen to it like you would any new CD. If you’re a Lemon Jelly fan, you will be absolutely thrilled to hear that the boys have expanded their already-eclectic sonic palette to include more obvious hints of disco, house and rock. If this is your first exposure to Lemon Jelly, sit back and relax: this is the sound of one of the most satisfying acts in electronic music delivering on the promise of their early material with another ambitious and enjoyable slab of intricate beatscapes.
// Notes from the Road
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