[20 April 2006]
CacheFlowe’s Justin G. may call the music on his debut album “post hop breakbeat electronica” (a genre descriptor that could only be made cheesier via the use of hyphens), but for the most part, it sounds like plain ol’ IDM (Intelligent Dance Music—itself one of the more gag reflex-tickling genre names) to me. This is IDM through the filter of a love of hip-hop music, but IDM nonetheless. The album is called Automate Everything, an appropriate title for an album on which nothing is left to chance, with every sequence, note, and sample meticulously placed in the mix, resulting in a highly calculated but still dynamic mix of shifting beats and obtuse synth work.
Mr. G’s most appealing attribute is his unwillingness to sit still. Much like the restless feel of laptoppers Kid 606 and Cex, there’s no telling what one song is going to sound like based on the context of the rest of the album, except that there are probably going to be stuttery beats and a few synths, with maybe a couple of vocal samples thrown in for identity’s sake. How he uses those various elements varies greatly from song to song, managing to make the album sound hyperactive and varied even as he maintains a consistent sound throughout. It’s this very nature that makes Automate Everything‘s first track, appropriately titled “Ahh… Huh?”, its best. Very much reminiscent of Autechre back when Autechre actually made beats, “Ahh… Huh?” sounds as though its entire length has been constructed without a single repeated drum sequence, even as the tempo and feel remains consistent. Beats flutter in, clipped vocal samples add punctuation, and hip-hop synths crawl all over the place, all of it sounding like something you could dance to until you actually try.
Not only does Automate Everything start on a fantastic note, but its two final tracks are absolutely worthy of spots on a mixtape or three as well. Interestingly enough, they’re both remixes, neither of them a CacheFlowe original. Penultimate track “Malfunction Disorder” is by the Dojo and features MCs the Analog Suspect and Extra Kool. The stream-of-consciousness feel of the words works well with CacheFlowe’s chaotic style, which itself is grounded a bit by having to concede some attention to the MCs. This give-and-take between CacheFlowe and the Dojo actually brings out the best in CacheFlowe’s production, as he layers as many melodic elements as creative beats, and the dirty-but-spacey feel of the result bears positive comparisons to El-P (I’ll forgive the inclusion of the overused 2001: A Space Odyssey samples). The last track on the disc is a fairly straight-up drum ‘n bass remix of a song called “Raining in Paradise” by a band called Timestream. Apparently, Timestream was Justin G’s dad’s rock ‘n soul band from the late ‘70s. Oddly enough, the juxtaposition of the two styles results in something that sounds a lot like an early ‘80s disco anthem with better drum programming. Who knew?
Sadly, that’s it as far as standout tracks go, and far too much of the stuff in the middle of those wonderful bookends is barely developed enough to qualify as filler.
Sure, the crazy beats persist throughout the CD. Sometimes, they even approach a level of complexity that validates the ‘I’ in IDM. Mostly, however, the beats are oddly sparse given how meticulously they’re programmed, leaving an awful lot of empty space for the synth and sample work to fill in. The title track almost works as it utilizes this formula, pushing an interesting enough monologue vaguely referencing the basic building blocks of, um, everything, while employing a sparse bass drum and handclap beat and some mellow bell synths. I mean, as a certified computer geek, I want to like any song that manages to work in a mention of UNIX text editor Emacs, but the track just goes and goes, no purpose in site, occasionally switching up the beat out of sheer boredom from the sound of it. “Phunkdaphonies” tries some horror movie-jazz chord action, but it never runs with the potent keyboard work that starts the song, instead content to putz around with another simplistic beat. More often, we don’t even get the hint of such interesting elements, as tracks like “Casio Vs. Heavy Metal” (which features neither a vintage sound nor any hints of big guitars) and the short-but-still-boring “Melmeansmellow” just kind of make noise without purpose.
None of this is to say that Automate Everything is an awful album; it’s actually not that bad. The tracks that start and end the disc are even pretty damn good. It just seems as though when Justin G. tries to extend his programming prowess to album-size proportions, he gets stretched a little thin. The guy’s got style, for sure, and there’s a high ceiling for what he’s capable of. As long as he realizes that minimalism isn’t the way to go by the time his next album comes around, he’ll be just fine.