Luke Vibert dons the camouflage for his latest project: a visceral, sometimes compelling Scarface done electronica style.
In the early 1990s, Instinct records put out an influential techno "compilation". The catch was that the whole thing was Moby performing under various pseudonyms. A long-running practitioner of various kinds of high-concept electronica, Luke Vibert -- aka Plug aka Wagon Christ aka Lots of Other Names -- could do the same thing if he wanted to. Instead, he's decided on the relatively novel concept of pitting a couple of his lesser-known monikers "against" each other on a full-length album. Hence, Amen Andrews vs. Spac Hand Luke. It's Vibert by any other name.
In 2003, Vibert invented the Amen Andrews tag for a series of vinyl-only EPs on the Rephlex label, while a Spac Hand Luke EP showed up earlier in 2006. The new album repeats only one track from those EPs, which were hugely popular with certain DJ crowds, so the mystique of those vinyl releases remains intact.
Vibert's music has always been cerebral, but while Plug and Wagon Christ could come across as whimsical or goofy, Amen Andrews vs. Spac Hand Luke finds him in all-out assault mode. From the gray-on-black album art to song titles like "Multiple Stab Wounds" and "Murder", the entire project takes on an intense, militaristic tone.
Yet it can still sound whimsical and silly at times, which is really unsettling -- it's like a kid going from making smoke bombs with a chemistry set to weapons-grade explosives. "London", from one of the earlier EPs, starts the album off with twangy Bond guitar and hip-hop samples, but the next track is called "I Shot Killer Pussy", and it ushers in an explosion of machine guns, laser blasts, and sub-bass.
There are really two types of songs here: hyper, nosediving raga/drum 'n' bass (most of the "Amen Andrews" tracks) and darker, moody midtempo meanderings (most of the "Spac Hand Luke" tracks). With profanity-laden, streetwise samples strewn all over the place like dead bodies, this could be the soundtrack for a modern-day multimedia Scarface, a sentiment Vibert himself seems to acknowledge with "Screwface". After a while you begin to wonder if Vibert himself, like Tony Montana, is losing control of the world he has created.
But the grounded hip-hop rhythm and ghostlike tones of "Grave" keep things from going too far over the top, and Vibert seems to wrestle the album back from the edge of the abyss. "Amen Andrews" actually twists and clatters itself into a groove. Vibert's programming is excellent throughout, with layer upon layer of hi-hats, percussion, and sound effects daring you to forge ahead through the war zone. The one downfall is that, even with all Vibert's mercurial touches, it seems like drum 'n' bass has already gone everywhere it's going to go. There's only so much shock value to be had in these sounds that have been ricocheting across speakers for over a decade now. The midtempo tracks, though, sound more fresh.
Whether by design or not, Vibert has made an album that largely mirrors the world it was made in: it's harrowing, violent, perverse -- and yet you can't quite give up on it.