Lush Life Electronica
US release date: 4 September, 2001
UK release date: Available as import
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My esteemed colleague Andy Hermann gave a little background on the resurrection of Quango in his review of Brazilified a couple of weeks ago, so read that if you want history. I’m just going to stick with reviewing these mild (and mildly disappointing) compilation CDs.
First: Dub Selector. The ascent of dub music in Jamaica in the late 1960s led to a lot of things: toasting, which became rapping; cut-and-paste studio technique, which led to hip-hop; the importance of the sound system deejay, which begat turntablism. The argument could even be made that Lee Perry and King Tubby, in their obsessive quest for atmosphere and trickery, gave birth to ambient and techno music just as much as any German robot-loving computer nerds ever did.
So when Quango issues a compilation called Dub Selector, Joe and Josefina Consumer think they’re getting some funky dub tracks. Instead, however, they’ve just bought a CD of dub-influenced tracks by electronic artists. People! How many times have I told you to read the back of the CD? Honestly. If you’d listened to me, you would have said to yourself, “Hey, I don’t think St.Germain is really from Jamaica”, and you’d have been kind of suspicious about the authenticity of a group called The Lost Skrolls of Hamaric and their hit reggae tune, “How to Find Royal Jelly”.
This disc is fairly nondescript and background-noisey to me to actually recommend. These artists aren’t being really evil or anything in their use of dub styles to further their semi-techno-downtempo mood pieces—I’m sure many of them love dub music. But none of these pieces have the kind of snap and conviction that they need. One of the most egregious cases in point is I:Cube’s “Le Dub”: It floats, it uses a Xeroxed sub-Sly-Dunbar drum track, it’s pleasant, it’s boring. Where’s the dub fire? Where’s the wild innovation? Where’s the remote? And don’t get me started on the lover’s rock version of “Police and Thieves”. I’m getting flashes of Junior Murvin and Joe Strummer as a pro wrestling tag team, pissed-off and oiled-up and talking trash like there’s no tomorrow.
Dub Selector is not all bad—several of the artists actually show that there is a future for this kind of music. Grant Phabad’s “Andub Head You” seems to understand how to melt down the barriers and just go have fun, and Keiser.Velten’s “Dubolition” shows that it’s absorbed its lessons well. But this is pretty much a CD to have on while you’re doing the dishes and don’t want to have to concentrate really hard on what you’re listening to.
Much the same can be said of the pleasant but not much more Lush Life Electronica. It’s a deceptive title; I was kind of psyched at first, because I thought maybe someone had recast the whole loungecore trend as swingin’ techno. But, sadly, my dreams were crushed. This has nothing to do with cocktails—it’s an hour of inoffensive ambient pastoral techno music.
The first track, John Beltram’s “Soft Summer”, rolls out of the gate all burbly and nice, like a watery version of Jean Michel Jarre’s “Oxygene” or Hot Butter’s “Popcorn”. Okay, in the interests of full disclosure, I must mention that I had a very prog-space-jazz adolescence, and I used to love these songs. So far, not so bad. But then we slide right into Sunrise Society’s “Astral Travels”, which sounds all burbly and nice, like a watery version of Jean Michel Jarre’s “Oxygene” or Hot Butter’s “Popcorn”. And on and on.
Look—this isn’t awful music. Well, my wife thinks it’s awful music. Actually, her phrase was “so annoying it’s pissing me off”. She’s wrong. It’s not annoying. It’s repetitive, it’s self-satisfied, it’s facile, and it has about as much dramatic tension as a Mentos commercial, but it’s NOT annoying.
Maybe it should be annoying. Maybe I want to hear music that’s going to annoy me sometimes, music that will challenge me and make me re-think my place in the universe. But this isn’t what any of these artists are going for. They’re just trying to concoct some mellow soundscapes using computers. Well, good for them. And especially good for the ones who stand out: CIM, Move D, Shad T. Scott, kick it up a notch and you might have something there.