Pantha du Prince: XI Versions of Black Noise

[4 May 2011]

By David Amidon

There are all sorts of reasons I probably shouldn’t have asked to write this review. For starters, I have incredibly limited intimate knowledge of the workings of electronic music. I know and like (in some cases, even love) all the cursory and canon releases, and I try to stay up on certain trends and of course there are artists that I discover and really like. Pantha du Prince is one of those artists, and I suppose the only factor that influenced my decision to take a crack at XI Versions of Black Noise.

Coming into the release I was worried how I could possibly write about it, being that I know nothing about the processes of remixing or the names of the various substyles and pseudo-genres artists like Carsten Jost, Fata Morgana, Mortiz Von Oswald and Hieroglphic Being were going to be throwing Pantha’s work into. Lucky for me, as it turns out I don’t really need to know any of that, because I’m able to spend my time talking about how utterly boring most of this album is.

In electronic circles, there’s an old saying that goes something like “never buy remix albums”. As best I can tell, this folklore stems from horror stories as easy as “none of these guys can remix worth a shit” to problems so complexly simple one wonders how the record’s executives ever signed off on them being allowed to happen. XI Versions of Black Noise rings to me as a sampler of all potential issues with remix albums. Firstly, and so we can get the most glowing positivity out of the way, Four Tet and Animal Collective provide very nice re-imaginings of “Welt am Draught” and “Stick to My Side” respectively. The latter in particular is intriguing if only to see if the Collective would take a Pantha song featuring band member Panda Bear and turn it into an Animal Collective track featuring Pantha (they don’t, not really). Lawrence also works together a very subdued take on “Stick to My Side” that works where the other subdued takes on “Stick to My Side” don’t. Or maybe I’m just drawing a straw out of a hat—after all, this album includes eleven tracks as stated in the title. It’s just, for whatever reason, five of them are (subdued) versions of “Stick to My Side”. Only Four Tet seems interested in harnessing a sound akin to Pantha’s original vision, perhaps because he’s one of the few that dares to retain Panda Bear’s vocals.

If five different versions of the same song wasn’t enough, you can always try three different flavors of “Welt am Draught”. If you’ve done the math, you’re noting at this moment that the eleven tracks on this disc are comprised of two tracks split eight ways—the other remixes include “Satellite Sniper” and Black Noise‘s two standout tracks, “Lay in a Shimmer” and “A Nomad’s Retreat”. The latter, whipped up by the Sight Below, is my favorite. Tellingly, it’s also the remix that retains the most original elements. The track choices pretty much baffle me. What I love about Pantha du Prince are his percussive elements, which were sure to be replaced in these remixes, so I anticipated that. But what I never expected was that a remix project dedicated to an album of his would wind up utilizing less than half its tracks for source material. It’s one thing to listen to a bunch of artists re-imagine another’s album in their own image, but it’s an entirely different and superbly lame thing to hear them all tackling the same song and all fail to match the original piece.

Ultimately, I’m not sure who to recommend this to. Fans of the artists involved could be drawn in, but if you’re anything like me you’d rather listen to your favorites’ original tunes, not remixes of others’. And fans of Pantha du Prince could be drawn in to hear how other artists interpret as the vital elements of his work, but many of them will leave XI Versions of Black Noise wondering why all these producers seem to think his music’s so boring. Perhaps somewhere in Europe untold numbers of folks are drooling over the work presented here, content to listen to 1.3 hours of “Sick to My Side”, “Welt am Draught”, and friends. Personally, I’ll just stick to Pantha du Prince proper.

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