Music

Juno Reactor: Gods and Monsters

Props are in order as the seventh full-length from Ben Watkins defies expectations to be his most complete and diverse record yet.


Juno Reactor

Gods and Monsters

Label: Metropolis
US Release Date: 2008-04-22
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

When it comes to trance, Ben Watkins wrote the book, soaked it in LSD-25, ate it piece by piece, and wrote it again in his own blood. What began as a collaboration to score non-commercial art installations, his legendary Juno Reactor project now ranks among the all-time greats of electronic music, alongside the likes of Underworld and Shpongle as essential innovators. The 1993 debut long-player Transmissions is widely accepted as one of, if not the first goa album in history. The form of the genre has been expanded upon and nearly perfected over the course of his catalogue, with Gods and Monsters counting as his seventh album in twice as many years.

Though all Juno Reactor records have nine tracks, the first few albums were also fairly rigid in thematic structure. But, gradually, the hints of a wide range of influences began to show more and more in each subsequent release. This progress has continued to the point that, now, this new album hardly has any trance on it. While that may be something of a disappointment to hardcore purists, speaking as a collector of albums, Gods and Monsters is by far the most diverse and satisfying work yet to grace Watkins's catalogue. To achieve this diversity, the album enlisted aid from David Bowie pianist Mike Garson, Asian Dub Foundation bassist Dr. Das, vocalists Ghetto Priest, Yasmin Levy, and Taz Alexander, percussionists Greg Ellis and Mabi Thobejane, and guitarists Eduardo Niebla, Sugizo, and Steven Stevens (who previously helped make "Pistolero" from 2000's Shango the future cowboy epic it was). Collectively, they push this record further than ever before.

The opening "Inca Steppa" builds on a rambling lead to absorb a slowed-down, reggae-ish, "Closer"-like beat and a Taz ramble about Mexico arising. Minute three adds a Dick Dale surf guitar, which returns in the closing minutes to fully embrace the drum and bass vibe that had teased up previously, especially in the vocal sample. It opens the record on as epic a note as you could imagine, and the rest doesn't let it down. Following that, "Tokyo Dub" is, as you would expect, a big, warping dub track during which Ghetto Priest makes mention of mentally constructing Japan's capital city. Juno Reactor has done a lot of work scoring animés, so the track makes perfect sense. In fact, the cover itself was drawn by Koji Morimoto -- who helped animate Akira and made a segment in The Animatrix -- and much of the album is said to be based on his characters.

Changing pace, "Mind of the Free" would not be out of place on an older Cinematic Orchestra album, as it presents the moody, jazzy side of downtempo. The polar opposite of that track arrives in "Immaculate Crucifixion", which begins innocently enough with a reversing electric guitar phrase, eventually swelling up with synth strings and live drums. By the time the track takes off, it's an all-out post-rock jam too electronic for Explosions in the Sky and too metal for Mogwai. It's hard to believe 'til you hear it work.

Just in time for a crucial US presidential election, one shaping up to be a choice between change and a hundred years of war, "City of the Sinful" wholeheartedly embraces Ben's political responsibilities. It's a shocking indictment of this age of distraction, begging you to "open up your mind" over a hard but mobile downtempo beat, Portishead-like guitars, and piercing strings. Again showcasing his variety on the brink of contradiction, the closing "Pretty Girl" is a sweetly low-key lurve song led by a bubbling beat, elegant piano, and a shaker. Shockingly, Watkins himself takes lead vocal and moans out his best Leonard Cohen impression with the loving help of a gospel choir. He ain't exactly Cohen, but going out with that kind of effort, perfectly balancing the way the album begins, is totally respectable.

There really isn't much about the whole thing that isn't worthy of props. Press releases are known for horrendous hyperbole, but it wasn't blowing smoke when it said the album is Ben's "most wide ranging and surprising" yet. I've already explained the ingrained diversity at length, and it's surprising in the way that the Flaming Lips' Soft Bulletin or Beck's Sea Change caught a lot of people off guard. Make no mistake, Gods and Monsters is Juno Reactor's most complete and impressive record, and, being Ben's seventh full-length, we've only seen the beginning of his true potential. That's a scary thought.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors


David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Music

Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.

Film

NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.

Music

South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.

Music

Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.