Various Artists: Blunted 3

[8 October 2001]

By Maurice Bottomley

Here we are again. Downtempo time. Trip hop as it was once known. Dubby beats, B movie dialogue, Old School scratching, synthesized soundscapes, a little hip-hop and a cupboard full of would-be exotic trimmings. No, don’t run away. Blunted 3 (actually the fourth in the series which is worryingly Cheech and Chongish) is worth checking out. Despite the familiar format it does deliver. If you can cope with the rather puerile concept and the studenty feel to the whole genre this is a pleasant addition to the burgeoning catalogue of post-modern electronica.

It helps that the general mood moves closer to Nu Jazz than you would expect and also that the dub pieces are much more imaginative than the usual cod-Perry efforts. It might simply be that, like much dance music, multiple artist sets tend to work better than single ones. Certainly, this is one of a limited number of albums of this type that you can: A) listen to all the way through and B) find yourself actually re-winding from time to time.

The balance that collections like this have to strike is one between ambience and variety. They need plenty of the first and more of the latter than they usually contain. The atmosphere on this offering is relaxed rather than (the conventional) dark and alienated and is close in spirit to recent abstract lounge excursions. Indeed Jugoe and Spy Hunta are two of Blunted’s names who also crop up on compilations such as the recent Loungin After Hours. If you can imagine a collaborative project between Ninja Tune, Om, Solomonic Sound, and Ubiquity’s Nobody—you will have some idea of this set’s parameters.

San Francisco’s T Spigot get the first opportunity to display this slight shift in focus. “Hypnotic” (you knew it was going to be called that, didn’t you?) uses sparse keyboard fills and then some appealing marimba to turn what starts off as a trip-hop by numbers piece into something memorable and melodically adventurous. In addition, a great bassline and some steady hip-hop beats give energy to a cut that is dangerously close to mid-tempo. It reminds me a little of some of the deeper West Coast house vibes being pushed by the likes of DJ Garth—although it is still more subdued than even that sedate version of dance music.

Equally appealing is Fugitive Elf’s “Creepy Place” which, though very much electronica, also has a welcome sprightliness. Its sampled sax riff again gives a jazzier flavour than is the norm. Back in more familiar Shadow territory, a piece of cut up movie dialogue is manipulated in a way that manages to be both funky and frightening. Fugitive Elf is animator Jon Gill and “Creepy Place” does have a strangely visual quality. Intriguing.

The next couple of tracks are beaty, in a gloomy sort of way, but no great shakes. Incidentally, Mujaji might wish to consider the wisdom of calling their contribution “Jihad”. Moving on as swiftly as such a somnolent form will permit, Spy Hunta, Merkin Dream and Jugoe then take the vibe deeply into college-boy dub area. This is where I usually lose interest and point out the vast superiority of the genuine Kingston ‘70s article. Not so here.

These cuts, along with the charming “Trump Card” by Futique, manage to use the dub framework to underpin a hybrid mixture of soothing but strangely compelling experiments.They avoid the usual trap of sounding like a poor copy of the real thing but gain authority from the borrowed structure. Merkin Dream stick closest, Futique move towards almost a classical style—both are winners. The remaining numbers, from the likes of Bitstream Dream, Saru and Travel Ensemble, also manage to stamp a personal signature on what is a rather impersonal basic template. These are efficient rather than mind-blowing affairs and the record could have done with a closing section as distinctive as the opening pairing.

Not an essential disc but by no means a dud then. Every actual “tune” is much like its fellows, yet all are cleverly crafted and deftly organised. Yes, it is still all very lava lamps and spurious profundities. Likeable nonetheless, in a mellow and oddly sophisticated way. Perhaps that is the twist. Blunted 3 is unexpectedly refined. Tranquility rather than narcosis seems to be the goal. Meditative rather than dribbling. I doubt that any of the participants will thank me for this observation but what we have here is suspiciously close to smooth trip-hop. Now there’s a genre with some frightening possibilities.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/various-blunted3/