The relative absence of Richard D. James (at least as far as non-vinyl media) has left a bit of a hole in the electronic music scene. Some would argue that the guy’s an overrated hack and that music is best off without him clogging up the works with his knob twiddling and his attitude, but I’d tend to disagree. There was an ambitious period for James in the mid-’90s when he gained most of his fame, as well as his notoriety, and he released some really fantastic, groundbreaking albums. Most popular tends to be the fairly pedestrian I Care Because You Do, which featured James’s signature brand of quirky melody and odd experimentation over some (relatively speaking) fairly straightforward beats. Still, the most influential of James’s releases remains his pseudo-eponymous Richard D. James album, which may not have created, but certainly ushered in the widespread employ of impossibly fast beat programming that forms the basis of what is now commonly called drill ‘n bass.
I mention this because Richard D. James, the album, is all over Clapan’s 21st Century Lullaby, which comes off as something of a slightly more palatable version of said album. Drill ‘n bass beats are all over it, backing the kinds of quivering, jittery synth sounds James had once made a name perfecting. Clapan (Denis Korsunsky to his friends) adds his own touches to the sound, allowing for different sorts of sonic concoctions that add a warmer texture to the mix. His beats, generally, tend to be simpler as well, allowing someone for whom Aphex Twin is a bit too avant garde entry points that they might not have with more “difficult listening”.
It’s not that Clapan is trying to keep up with James and failing; rather, his motivation is different. Much of the motivation for 21st Century Lullaby would appear to originate from Korsunsky’s young son. “21st Century Lullaby” is certainly devoted to him, and it’s likely that songs like “Model for My Lyric”, “Ninja”, and “My Laptop and His Dream” are at least subtle allusions to his young muse. This attachment to family should come as no surprise, given that Korsunsky’s father and grandfather were also electronics whizzes, ties from whom he got his own electronic predilection.
Oddly enough, the best tracks on 21st Century Lullaby are those on which Korsunsky opts for more traditional beats — or, at least, beats that don’t pile on top of each other all over the track. “Manual Control” rides a nice, mid-tempo beat into the ether, allowing for a pleasant sort of mind-release that one could only hope to find on one of the myriad available “chill-out” albums. “Certification” is another mid-tempo track, this time with hints of psychedelic influence, reminiscent of some of Coil’s more beat-oriented work. “Shopping Cart (Clapan Remix)” is the track that introduced much of the western world to Clapan via Somia’s Miad compilation from last year, and it fits in nicely with the pleasantries as well, leaning a bit more toward Boards of Canada than Aphex Twin.
Unfortunately, in an attempt to display some kind of programming prowess, Korsunsky can’t help but clutter many of his songs with incongruous sounds. While this may be a stab at complexity, it ends up making songs like “Ninja” and “Q3 Voice” sound too busy and discombobulating. Nothing I’ve heard out of Clapan has suggested that difficult listening is his specialty (or even what he’s trying for), but it’s tough to make it through some of these exercises in overpopulation. Korsunsky does succeed on one of these more experimental tracks; the opener “Organ Man”, on which the most obvious homages to Richard D. James can be found, is quite well done, and progresses not by adding sounds on top of sounds, but by taking a limited set of sounds and warping it all over the track. If Korsunsky had stuck to this approach, the album as a whole could have been much stronger.
Even so, 21st Century Lullaby isn’t a bad album. With the low profile that artists like Aphex Twin, µ-Ziq and Squarepusher have taken of late, there is certainly a place for new music in this style. Clapan doesn’t break any new ground, and he’s certainly not a replacement for the genre giants, but 21st Century Lullaby is mostly a very listenable piece of drill ‘n’ bass.