Ghislain Poirier: No Ground Under

Filmore Mescalito Holmes

The real coming out party for Montreal's finest beatsmith burns all the dancehall joints you can handle, and then a couple more.

Ghislain Poirier

No Ground Under

Label: Ninja Tune
US Release Date: 2008-01-29
UK Release Date: 2007-10-31

Montreal isn't the first place you think of when you want the most banging hip-hop produced by club culture, but that may soon change. If and when it does, you will have Ghislain Poirier to blame. He's been slowly perfecting his abstract aesthetic on his own terms since the turn of the millennium, and now, with his debut for the legendary Ninja Tune, his greatest opportunity has presented itself. This is his coming out party. The question is, how will he rank as a host?

Poirier's first two full-lengths, 2001's Il N'y A Pas De Sud and 2002's Sous Le Manguier are almost unrecognizable by contrast to No Ground Under. By and large, they were ambient downtempo albums, with any hip-hop leanings concealed under waves of reverb and melancholy indulgence. His mind was not focused on the "Bounce Le Gros" so much as sparse minimal techno, echoing world-influenced soundscapes through bedrooms and chill stages. They were totally French named, received little release outside of Quebec and, thus, made little impact on the global village.

Shortly after that, Ghislain started to loosen up. 2003 saw his Conflits LP for Intr_version strike a chord in Canada with more pronounced beats pushing his frozen samples and subtle electronic tweaks into exciting new territories of abstract hip-hop, yet maintaining the chill vibe. That album also witnessed the first appearance of rhymes, which are hard to pull off well in French, but damned if they don't work flawlessly with Poirier. That year also marked his debut album for Chicago's own Chocolate Industries with Beats As Politics, which worked the American angle and garnered Ghis some international recognition with a dedicated focus nun-punching hip-hop underpinned by warping basslines and an increased interest in dancehall. Séba, the only guest emcee on Conflits, graces two such tracks on BAP that are positively teeming with riddim, pointing towards things to come. But as good as those two mini-album teasers were, they still had a bit of an amateurish, occasionally demo like edge to them.

Breakupdown (2005) was an undeniable breakthrough for Ghislain and one of the last great Chocolate Industries releases. The album percolated a perfect blend of bizarre but toasty kitchen sink hip-hop -- oozing more pot haze and psilocybin than two copies of Quasimoto's 2005 full-length The Further Adventures of Lord Quas -- and mind melting techno the likes of which moistens candy ravers' dreams. Séba returned to lend his words, this time to a true hip-hop track. Big Dada's Lotek H-Fi also dropped rhymes on a sick Beta Band like downtempo beat, but the Beans (Antipop Consortium) trip on "Cold As Hell" takes the guest appearance cake with the biggest liquid synth-hop style this side of Danny Breaks. The instrumental "Return to Lose" nearly took my head off the first time I heard it, with its skipping string sample clicking in an eerily precise style. The whole album was a beautiful, beautiful nightmare start to finish.

Chocolate Industries kinda dropped off the face of the earth shortly after Breakupdown's release, but Ghis had plenty to keep him busy. His pet club night, Bounce Le Gros dominated Montreal with a steady diet of grime, rap, soca, dubstep, and everything in between. His demand as a remixer skyrocketed simultaneously, reconstructing the likes of Buck 65, Bassnectar, Lady Sovereign, Pole, Cadence Weapon, and dozens more. He even founded his own label, Rebondir, and debuted it with an EP of the same name. So lethargy is not to blame for Ghis taking such an uncharacteristically long time in coming out with his new album, a whole two years (which feels like a while when he previously had five records in as many years).

No Ground Under continues Poirier's upward trajectory as his first appearance on for the biggest independent label in the world, Ninja Tune. And yet, what should be his crowning achievement feels like a missed opportunity. Never before has a Ghislain Poirier album been so thoroughly engrossed with what he refers to as "cosmopolitan bass and chunky digital dancehall". Where Breakupdown put most of its emphasis on big synth sounds ripped from angrily forgotten techno, gooey basslines, and choice samples, No Ground Under is all overlapping ganja'd-up bass with more vocals than ever before. Basically, it has lost all of its subtlety. "City Walking" rises up like cream with a standard hip-hop instrumental -- fluffing up a flute and natural drums with a deluge of manipulated sound parodies -- and a choice flow from DJ Format collaborator Abdominal, who muses about the happenings in downtown windows as he bustles by with his headphones on. "Exils" also separates itself with sub ripping bass and violin accompaniment, while Mr. Lee G's shot on "Dem Na Like Me" is the closest thing here to "Cold As Hell" musically.

Pretty much everything else is party dancehall, more slickly produced than ever before, which does nothing for me in the slightest. Getting yelled at by Face-T and Zulu just isn't my cup of tea, even if their intentions are good, and Omnikrom's "Jusqu'en Haut" gets more annoying every time I hear it. They sound like teenagers. Granted, that riddim influence has been a part of Poirier's life for many years, but its death grip on this album is mildly disappointing. It seems more and more these days that when someone gets an opportunity to make a Ninja Tune album, they really try to make a Ninja Tune sounding album instead of just being themselves. As such, No Ground Under will serve fans of the label very well, providing all the soca anthems and distorted bass they have come to expect, but long time fans of Ghis may find it a bit lacking. Bring back the techno.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.