This is a good album. The problem is that it isn’t a great album, inasmuch as it lacks the kind of unique textures that could elevate otherwise repetitive tracks. It is essentially very similar to many other albums that I could name, and these similarities keep an otherwise sterling production from achieving distinction.
The Global Underground label has done quite a bit to rehabilitate their brand after having become irrevocably identified with the trance glut of the late ‘90s. The turning point, at least for me, was James Lavelle’s first Global Underground compilation, which remains the kind of dizzyingly eclectic mix that sticks in your memory for years. What had been a relatively staid and predictable trance series, with occasional flashes of straight house, was instantly rejuvenated. Trance had overstayed its welcome a long time before, and the Global Underground series had been one of the biggest names in the trance world. The elevation of James Lavelle to the status of GU superstar with the release of his Barcelona mix put the electronic music world on notice that the label was once more looking towards the future, with all the genre-bending catholicism that such a release implied.
The release of Trafik’s debut album marks another step in the right direction for the label. Although they’ve been releasing mix CDs since 1996, this is only the second original artist album the label has released (the first being Pako & Frederik’s Atlantic Breakers). Trafik is Andrew Archer and John Elliot, a pair of producers (Elliot also sings) with an unexceptional resume between them—Archer served as one of the GU label’s resident DJs for many years before joining up with Solavox and ‘Tilt’ veteran Elliot. They’ve produced an interesting album, with a surprising mixture of styles and tempos put together to form a pleasing, if occasionally frustrating, whole. The problem is that while this is an extremely competent disc, there’s very little here that you won’t have heard before.
The disc opens with “Midas”, the kind of swooping ambient introductory track that used to accompany every electronic music album. “Midas” gives way to “Echoes”, a torpid down-tempo pseudo rock number with uninteresting vocals by Elliot. However, “Echoes” is followed in short order by “Kaleidoscope”, a spry and muscular breaks track that brings to mind mid-era Orbital. This, in turn, is followed by the slower “Escape From”, another Orbital-inspired track, with perhaps a small debt owed to the lumbering Crystal Method as well.
The albums follows this pattern pretty consistently. The energy level goes up and down all the way through, with great peak-time breaks / house numbers followed by enervating attempts at downtempo numbers. “Disco Trafiko” is a massively satisfying tune, but it’s followed by “Our Time In The Future”, a bald-faced attempt to replicate the feel of early DJ Shadow. It’s not a bad track, not exactly—merely a let-down after such a rousing up-tempo number. Maybe ambient tracks like “Relax”, and acid jazz experiments like “Into the Wind” wouldn’t seem so perfunctory if they weren’t followed by more energetic tracks like “Your Light”.
There is an art to sequencing an eclectic album in such a way that down-tempo tracks fit snugly against more traditional club-oriented fare. The Chemical Brothers and Underworld, to name two prominent examples, have made an art of balancing the hard and the soft in the context of their exquisitely well-sequenced albums. The difference here is that while a few tracks may stand out as especially compelling, the constant, almost arbitrary up-and-down momentum lends Bullet a sameness that prevents the album from adding up to more than the sum of its parts. Their production skills are top-notch, but their mostly prog-influenced sound is nowhere near as elastic as it needs to be to pull of the type of aggressive genre-hopping they attempt here.
// Notes from the Road
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