Realistic’s catchy broken-beat sample-scapes could almost have been the bread and butter of a label like Ninja Tune in the late ‘90s. But whereas previous greats like Coldcut and Amon Tobin were certainly adept sample-manipulators, their focus was always on creating an atmosphere and groove, while labels like Illegal Art are part of a tradition focused on more blatant pop cultural appropriation and recontextualization. Girl Talk still rests firmly in that territory, however popular these days, but Realistic, with tracks like “Conversation Hearts” gliding and skipping with the finesse of a lost breakbeat classic (or even a refinement of sampling innovators like Art of Noise) forms a kind of missing link. But for every briskly evolving “Library Music” or “Welcome to Heaven”, there’s a “Brand Name Sunday”, a track that jitters through too many slightly ill-fitted motifs and fails to really cohere, intriguing but ultimately frustrating. Those bits, sounding at times more like musique concrète sound-collaging, arguably tether the album more firmly to its plunderphonic roots and their grooveless roaming is probably not entirely unintentional, but they can still be more science experiment than song. There’s nothing wrong with such experiments—virtually the entire Negativland catalog falls into this category—but Realistic, by seemingly shooting for songs, set for themselves a tougher task. Perhaps appreciation is all in interpretation, but it’s unclear at this point whether Realistic should be evaluated as reconstituted faux-pop or the real thing.
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// Notes from the Road
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