Dub Tractor: Hideout

[3 May 2006]

By John Bergstrom

PopMatters Associate Music Editor

Just Don't Expect Mad Scientist

Have you ever been fooling around on a musical instrument and just sort of fallen into a cool, natural groove—just a couple of notes or chords that sound right together and plug into a certain neural space? Moby’s made a career out of it, but not everyone’s as clever as he. Often it’s easy to sink into the groove and… stay with it for a few bars, a few more, a half-hour or so. That’s sort of the situation Anders Remmer has himself in for the whole of Hideout. The Dutchman certainly knows an ear-pleasing, two-chord progression when he hears one. But his pretty, minimal, dust-covered compositions have trouble taking the next step.

Like fellow European Stefan Betke, aka Pole, Remmer attempts to use synthesizers and electronic hisses and clicks to assimilate the simple, rhythm-centered arrangements and lo-fi, lived-in charm of vintage dub reggae. Like dub, Hideout relies on subtle modulations in sound and arrangement, along with well-placed panning effects to hold your ear. Whether the strategy works depends on the song and, perhaps more crucially, your ingestion of mood-altering substances. But, no, this is not spaced-out psuedo-hippie meandering. It’s mostly love songs, or songs that sound like love songs.

The more focused, fully-realized compositions are the most successful. And here “fully-realized” means taking—and retaining—form. There’s nothing wrong with the synths’n'fuzz approach on “I Woke Up”, “Faster”, and “I’m Like You”. On the latter, when Remmer mutters, “It’s all in the way she says goodbye”, you’re betting his romanticism will win out over the coldest of drum machines and Pro-Tools programs. The key musical ingredient turns out to be melancholy, rough-hewn guitar strumming that can be described only as “New 0rder-ish”. But more on that later.
“Droplets”, the album’s literal and metaphorical centerpiece, is as powerful as this sort of approach can get. The melody reverberates until it becomes said liquid, seeping into everything around it. Heady. In Hideout‘s biggest flash of diversity, “I Forgot” is full-on pop. Again, New Order is the reference point, but instead of the flashy, divebombing-bass sound that’s fast becoming cliché, it’s the tight-lipped minimalism circa ‘81-‘82 that comes to mind. Too bad, then, that Remmer forgot to actually make a song out of it.

That’s the elusive step that Remmer seemingly can’t take. Too often, he repeats song titles in lieu of lyrics. Or he allows arrangements to become inert long before the song is over. Printer, for one, have proven that dub-inspired earthiness and cutting-edge technology can have a party to which momentum is invited. It would be interesting to find out whether Remmer named Hideout before or after recording it; more often than not, it sounds like he’s trying too hard to live up to its title.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/dub_tractor_hideout/