It seems a little strange on the surface, releasing a remix version of an album that is two years old. King Midas Sound’s debut, Waiting for You (2009), was a masterstroke in deep, dark, moody bass music complemented by warm, soulful vocals and smart lyrics. The album was so stark and intimate, it functioned as a single capsule of sound. Why pry that capsule open two years later and have a bunch of outside DJs and artists have at it?
King Midas Sound mastermind Kevin Martin has said he hooked up with so many cool, talented people while on tour for Waiting for You, he wanted to involve them in reinterpreting the album, with one caveat. “It’s not just another hire-the-big-names marketing product,” Martin has asserted.
Well, some “big names” are here, at least within the milieu of forward-thinking, electronic-leaning indie music. The international cast includes experimentalists Flying Lotus and Gang Gang Dance, underground hip-hop artist Ras G, and Hyperdub label mates Kode9, Cooly G, and Hype Williams (the band, not the hip-hop video director). Even Scritti Politti frontman Green Gartside makes an appearance. Clearly, though, all involved have indeed approached Without You as more than mere product. It is actually more than a remix album, too, as several tracks are “revoiced”. That is, guests have recorded new vocals and lyrics over Waiting for You tracks.
Despite the far-reaching group of collaborators, Without You maintains a fairly cohesive, unified atmosphere, one that works the same bass-heavy, dub-influenced back alleys as Waiting for You. More often than not, it is interesting, which is more than a lot of remix albums can claim. At times, it goes a step further and is revelatory. Alas, it is not totally immune to the traps of the remix album, either. Even though few of the 15 tracks are overlong, Without You eventually tries your attention span, and some tracks feel like answers to questions no one save Martin and friends would have asked.
The album starts out with some of its strongest material. Vinyl crackle and buzzing, ominous synth chords introduce Kuedo’s reworking of “Goodbye Girl”, one of the most lovelorn, affecting songs on Waiting for You. Kuedo maintains a tension and sadness throughout. The mood becomes downright despondent on “Without You”, the album’s most successful reinvention. D-Bridge takes the original, a brief, untitled instrumental, and turns it into a haunting masterpiece by adding his delicate, soulful croon, a bit of sub-bass, and some murky synth chords. If everything on Without You were as successful as this opening salvo, this would be an album on par with Waiting for You.
But not everything is. The thicker and slower arrangements, the ones that run with the originals’ purposeful inertia, generally fare the best. Hype Williams add more atmosphere and depth to “Sumtime”, for example, varying the speed of Roger Robinson’s spoken-word vocals and adding pitter-pattering syndrums and what sounds like the crackle of weapons fire in the background. Among the more overtly dub and dubstep-influenced remixes, Mala’s mean, rolling version of “Earth A Kill Ya” is a standout. It’s much more effective than Gang Gang Dance’s quirky, glitchy reworking of the same track.
Aside from Ras G & the Afrikan Space Program’s manic, noisy, wobbly, and ugly rework of “Cool Out”, the remainder of the material on Without You doesn’t so much fall flat as fail to stand out or augment the originals. On “Say Something”, Joel Ford’s more upbeat, charismatic vocals add some almost-pop appeal to “Waiting for You”. Gartside, though, can’t overcome the drone of “Come and Behold”/”I Man”. Tracks like this remind you of just how important Robinson is to King Midas Sound.
The dubby, trippy, illbient stylings of Without You are at least a valiant attempt on Martin’s part to move this type of bass music into more collaborative, eclectic territory. Even with its shortcomings the album is superior to, say, the last couple offerings from Massive Attack. Now let us hope Martin and his crew focus their efforts on a new studio album. If nothing else, Without You has given them, and their fans, plenty of food for thought.