[31 August 2004]
Let’s get one thing absolutely clear from the outset: this is by no means a commercial record. There are no songs, let alone choruses. The tracks don’t really have end, middle or beginning sections; they just start, occur and then stop, often without much warning, or head vaguely off out of audible range. There are 23 of them, and quite a few are under 60 seconds long; the average being about 1:30. It’s out on the tiny label of the artist himself (albeit the best named one since Carina Round’s Dehisce), who just happens to be a drummer. A JAZZ drummer. For one of the world’s foremost improv jazz collectives, The Blue Series Continuum, amongst other projects. Electronics are involved, of the blipping, dysfunctional variety, and it has a fairly pretentious title, as these things go. To top it all off, there’s some sort of exotic variant of avian silhouette as the centrepiece of the cover art, and everybody knows that, no matter how snazzy your duck, putting one on the cover is a surefire way of missing out on that top Billboard slot.
Which puts me in something of a quandary as a reviewer, because unless you’re one of the frivolous scum who check out music websites just to get downloading cues, like I used to, then one of the more important aims of my review should be to either grab you by the britches and demand loudly that you buy the record, or else warn you away from it with a large stick. I’m sure you’re having a busy day, you don’t want no half steppin’. While I don’t think you definitely need this album in your life, I can’t really recommend any tracks to check out illegally either because it works best as a prolonged submersion. Yet overall it is an unsettling, mysterious and strangely satisfying collection of compositions. So I’m going to grapple with a small selection of what’s on offer whilst bunging in as many references to other artists as possible in an attempt to make this mainstream advertising rep’s nightmare intriguing to a nice broad cross-section of you.
Overall we’re in experimental territory rather than any definable genre; the sound generally clear if dark, with drones, edits and filters infusing the percussion-based tracks with a cohesive feel malingering somewhere between organic and electronic. Whilst the black dreams of the title are definitely present here in the music’s refusal to articulate anything definite, preferring to burble and surge strangely like the night-time subconscious, the subtly tribal feel of some of the drumming suggests the title is meant in the racial sense. This is best borne out on “Columbia/oh”, where a muted vocal sample repeats in the background whilst an oscillating stack of modern percussion teeter on a crunchy stamp of a beat, occasionally cascading off, and the whole somehow evokes Africa.
Singing is only really present on the opener, “Octaroon”, the title track and “There’s a way home”, but the exact phrases are often elusive as they bizarrely distort and twist, like a barbershop chorus of djinns improvising with a single phrase, billowing in strange desert air currents, or perhaps a TV On The Radio LP melting and warping on a smoking turntable. “Dust” could be DJ Krush with its restrained electro-splurges, whilst “Groove X” tinkles fragmentedly, recalling a less intense DJ Spooky, and “It’s All Noise” is nothing so much as a 50-second, high speed game of Pong (or possibly Space Invaders)—very retro.
There is also a pronouced emphasis on oral sounds; whether the asthmatic dragon/Darth Vader duel over proto-drum’n'bass that is “Hissy Fit”, the licking/slurping loops underpinned by rhythmic blowing on the mic (“Mouth Que”), or “Chit”, which sounds like someone breathing backwards underwater. Prog beatboxing is go! Finally, “Formless Fears” interrupts a drifting track reminiscent of Mira Calix’s micro-organic calm with anguished exhalations that spring in and out whilst dark muttering similar to that on UNKLE’s “Rabbit In Your Headlights” struggles along underneath, until what sounds like a malevolent hoover on bad drugs swoops from one speaker to the other before imploding.
I can’t really escape the feeling that this music is asking me things my conscious mind doesn’t know how to answer, if it understand the questions at all. Maybe you’ll have better luck; it’s probably worth a try.