[20 March 2007]
You can sprinkle specific spices over a generic dish and claim it’s Cajun, Indian, or Mexican cooking, but it isn’t really, it’s just flavouring. Proper regional cooking goes deeper than that, it’s more than what you sprinkle on at the end: it’s in the initial ingredients, it’s in the approach. This is certainly the case with Up, Bustle & Out’s Mexican Sessions (Our Simple Sensational Sound), in which they never seem to really engage fully with the music of Mexico at a base level. Instead, they just flavour the Caribbean dub grooves and hip-hop breaks with South-of-the-Border colour and language without it often penetrating the root structure of the tunes. Though this by no means makes for a terrible record, it’s perhaps a less interesting one than it might have been. Simple? Yes: these tunes are built around repetitive dubby beats. Sensational? Not particularly, though they do have their moments.
As well as releasing records on other imprints, Bristol production duo Up, Bustle & Out have been regulars on the consistently interesting roster of Ninja Tunes artists for well over a decade. Most of these acts have been marked out by their idiosyncratic genre defying characteristics. Neither overtly ‘dance’, ‘jazz’, ‘hip-hop’, or ‘trip-hop’ they, along with Cinematic Orchestra, Amon Tobin, and Coldcut amongst numerous others, have provided a fascinating bulwark against lazy pigeon-holing categorization with sophisticated, intelligent left-field grooves and an urge for the experimental and the eclectic. After exploring the musical heritage of Cuba and the Caribbean on recent releases U, B & O. have set their sights on Mexico and Columbia for inspiration this time, with mixed results. A large and varied list of collaborators perhaps explains the sometimes patchy quality of the music.
A lot of this album is straight-up dub, which they do well, though it’s far from groundbreaking. “Mi Chat Latin” is slinky and salacious with a bright hypnotic groove, but is too often let down by the random exclamations of “Arriba, arriba” and “Senorita!” One half expects Speedy Gonzalez to pop up any minute. The tune itself is infectiously catchy, but the ‘Mexican’ elements feel half-baked, patronizing even. “Corazon De Leon” is more successful in its blending of reggae and a more traditional Mexican sound. Looped accordions circle round darker, slower beats, and the ‘toasting’ steers clear of obvious clichés, sounding much more soulful, sophisticated, and authentic as a result.
The exploration of traditional ‘Cumbian’ music that comes with “Cumbion Mountain” is a welcome relief after half an album of dub tunes that begin to grow monotonous. This is a pointer to what the album could’ve been if the focus had been on Mexico and Columbia rather than straying to the Caribbean, as it too often does. Blaring horns, vibrant Mexican vocals, and propulsive scattershot drums move this tune along at an exhilarating pace, which makes the earlier stuff seem comatose by comparison. “Mi Altar Voy A Armar” is another highlight: an almost schizophrenic number which ranges over all the album’s geographical bases in the course of one tune. It’s a compelling mixture of Jamaican steel drums, 1990s Bristol trip-hop, and Cumbian percussion.
The album is overlong and outstays its welcome with remixes of tunes that weren’t all that compelling on first listen. It’s interesting to note that the album grew out of collaborations originally intended to comprise a 12-inch record. That is what it often feels like: an idea stretched too far. The Cumbian music of Mexico and Colombia is so fascinating it’s hard to understand why they had to combine it with such a heavy, overpowering, and often nullifying Caribbean influence. There are a few real treasures, but they are unfortunately rather lost in the sprawl of 16 tracks of often tedious dub reggae. This is certainly a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth—the list of collaborators is immense—but also of too many damn ingredients in the first place. I’d have liked it if they had confined their focus to South America. It would have been simpler, but so much more sensational.