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Troubleman

Time Out of Mind

(Far Out; US: Available as import; UK: 12 Jul 2004)

As a musician, composer, and producer, Mark Pritchard clearly has a lot going for him, if not always nearly as much as he’s got going on. If you’ve turned a vaguely discerning ear towards the more funkily eclectic side of dance music (mainly downtempo, house, and hip-hop) during the past decade or two, his productions have probably tangled with your eardrums and made your soles itch, even if his name doesn’t ring any immediate bells. Those in the know will recall—or more likely, will replay for the 1000th time—his enormously influential, innovative material with Tom Middleton (aka Cosmos, noted electro/house producer deity responsible, amongst many, many other things, for guiding a certain Richard D. James’ first toddling steps towards AFX-dom) under the moniker Global Communication; the resulting album of deep house/ambient magic, the classic 76:14, being perhaps the closest anyone in any genre has come to matching DJ Shadow’s entire-amalgamated-genre-in-a-unique-album feat. The two also bequeathed us a lot of more dancefloor-orientated house as the Jedi Knights before finally splitting up, presumably to give the rest of house music a chance (although more likely due to the fact that Middleton is a tour DJ monster, whereas Pritchard is a more of a studio homebody). As we now know, this was putting rather more faith in house than was wise.


Accordingly, Pritchard’s most visible project of late has been Harmonic 33, a rather faceless front for downtempo instrumental hip-hop beats and fuggy electronic grooves that nevertheless supplies high caliber vibes for stoners everywhere; a second album is due shortly. Other than that he’s been pretty quiet for the past few years apart from the odd remix (giving Nightmare on Wax’s “Say My Name” an almighty slap on the ass, for example). That’s all changing though; in between assembling this-‘ere long-delayed album on the downlow and getting to grips with a multitude of other promised—if nebulous—projects, he’s also found time to put together a collection of “library” recordings. So basically he’s a busy little chappy with a perky pedigree.


Time Out of Mind sees Pritchard dusting off his more upbeat percussion talents and letting a lot of sunshine in; Troubleman is here and it’s time to shake your rumba! This album comes as close to sounding genuinely Brazilian as anyone living in the godforsaken freezing mud pit known as Great Britain is going to accomplish, but not without incorporating the homegrown dustings of new funk don Quantic and party collective Bugz in the Attic; pared-down yet lustrously shimmering grooves abreeze with light melodies over nimble, supple rhythmics that aren’t afraid to settle down into more rigorous syncopation. Pressing the “hardened hack” auto-label button gives us… broken bossa. It’ll do.


As you might expect, this means effortless demonstrations of instrumental groove theory, ranging from the hypnotic electrolysis of the seven minute title track and the minimalist reggaeton/dub bounce of the even longer “Strikehard” (which recalls Groove Armada even as it surpasses them) to the calmer likes of “Righteous Path”, which develops, in very Will Hollandesque fashion, out of a simple two note descending/ascending double bass loop with Rhodes, strings and gently plucked circling guitars giving way to sampled choral vocals so softened and warm they’re more like a breeze at sunset than icy Gregorian angels. We also get four vocal cuts: two conservative tracks delivered with panache by Nina Miranda, who shows that she can do the wistful longing thing as well as fiery whispering, and two from lesser known UK soul talents. Eska, having worked with Ty and MJ Cole, gives a performance of controlled elegance on the sedate “Roll On”, the closest thing on the album to R&B, and Steve Spacek of London dubsoul crew Spacek delivers his trademark sensual whimsy against the nostalgic wooziness of blurred strings on “Without You”.


By the time things come to a close with “Zap”, a drift of splintered vocal loops that would be at home on Scott Herren’s Savath & Savalas project, there have been a few moments of Latin ambience fatigue, and some of the tracks have gone on longer than strictly warranted, but overall Pritchard’s production panache and obvious love of the music he’s drawing on (and creating) ring true. He’s skilled enough to take his time, always adding little touches to augment the groove rather than for momentary effect, and his drums are dirty enough to cut a swathe through the bland, elaborate prettiness of so much contemporary jazz/world-flavored dance music. Lying in a hammock with his eye on the dance floor, Pritchard’s mastery recalls Mos Def’s majesty: he demonstrates his force without effort. If you’ve been looking for music to soothe and warm your inners as much as it tugs at your good foot, Trouble’s your man.

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