Meat Beat Manifesto's 'Impossible Star' Is Sound in Service of Sound
Impossible Star is the first Meat Beat Manifesto album since 2010, and the good news is, it exists in its own world, which tends to be where Jack Dangers belongs.
Meat Beat Manifesto
Self-released (digital) Virtual Label (flexidisc)
19 January 2018
Jack Dangers has been producing electronic music as one part (sometimes the only part) of Meat Beat Manifesto for 30 years now. While Meat Beat Manifesto never hit the mainstream, exactly, Dangers did skirt alongside it for a brief time in the late '90s as he teamed up with Trent Reznor's Nothing Records, remixed Nine Inch Nails, had a minor hit with a cover of World Domination Enterprises' "Asbestos Lead Asbestos", and snuck a song onto the soundtrack for The Matrix. The time since has found Dangers experimenting with trends old and new, touching on jazz, dubstep, and IDM while retaining the type of detail-oriented approach that made him one of the most sought-after artist/producers of the '90s.
Impossible Star is the first Meat Beat Manifesto album since 2010, and the good news is, it exists in its own world, which tends to be where Jack Dangers belongs. This is not an album-length response to the political climate of the day, it doesn't make a point of consistently following a given trend in electronic music, and it doesn't seem to hearken back to any Meat Beat Manifesto album in particular, though it does touch upon all of those things. It is simply a lengthy musical statement from an artist who has been curiously quiet for a long time.
Some of it is fantastic. "We Are Surrounded" is perhaps the most like the Meat Beat Manifesto that touched the mainstream, a sample-heavy, upbeat track that could work on the dance floor or in headphones. It's not a million miles from Actual Sounds and Voices tracks like "Prime Audio Soup" or "Acid Again", though it feels darker, wearier somehow. The paranoia of the samples comes through in the music, and when Dangers decides to add a few vocals of his own to make sure we're totally clear on the title of the song, we start to believe his exhortations. "T.M.I." is perhaps the most overtly political piece of the bunch, a dub concoction where Dangers takes on the news cycles of the Facebook age in his unique way. It would fit right into the hazy atmospheres of Subliminal Sandwich. Dangers touches on jazz ("Bass Playa"), house ("Nocebo"), and even experimental ambient ("Rejector"), all while maintaining a certain quality control that gives the album consistency and flow.
Perhaps most interesting is "Lurker", a 14-minute three-part suite whose first segment was released on an EP a couple of years ago. The three segments are distinct and share little past a general foreboding mood. Each part is meticulously composed and intentional in its darkness, though it's not immediately clear exactly why "Lurker" couldn't have been three separate tracks.
This lack of a sense of purpose is the primary failing of Impossible Star as a whole, as well. It comes off a little like a concept album; its ebbs flows highs and lows all feeling like they are adding up to something, but exactly where they are going stays hidden. We get crunchy electronic tapestries, we get washes of noise, we get samples and electronic voices, we get some jazz chords, we get some tinkly little melodies, and all of it adds up to... what exactly?
That's up to us to decide, I suppose, but really what it comes off as is sound in service of sound. That is fine, but so much of it is so meticulously engineered, each noise its own specific choice, that there is very little room for feeling other than a general sense of malaise or dread. The result is an album that's easier to admire than it is to enjoy. Almost all of these tracks are fine on their own, but together, they add up to background music, electronic beats suitable for working, or painting, or playing video games to. That can't help but be a disappointment given Jack Dangers' history of energy and innovation.
The title track of Impossible Star starts as a typical skittery beatfest complete with some well-placed samples, but about two-thirds of the way through the album, the bottom drops out, and we get a bass-heavy groove the likes of which appears nowhere else on the album. There's a deep voice, saying "peace... is the word... impossible". There's a concept in there somewhere, clearly, but it never coalesces. There's the feeling that we should be thankful for any music from Meat Beat Manifesto given that it's been over seven years since Answers Come in Dreams. That said, a little more time in the incubator might have given us something truly of its time, something more revolutionary than merely adequate, an album with something to say about where we are and where we are going. This is mostly solid, occasionally great music and nothing more. That's fine, but it's also a little disappointing and will be too easy for history to forget.