One of techno's leading lights doesn't put out many albums, but compilations like this are, if anything, even better
If nothing else, Karl O’Connor must drive obsessive filers and categorizers of discographies up the wall. Over an illustrious 20-plus years as Regis and various other pseudonyms and collaborations (Sandwell District and British Murder Boys being two of the more high-profile examples of the latter) he’s produced plenty of vital music, often in the vein of brutally effective techno, but fairly few of what you could call proper LPs. Of course, O’Connor works in a field where that’s less important for his audience and reputation, and other than the possible strawman I’ve constructed at the beginning of this paragraph is that sort of thing really all that important to listeners? The newly released Manbait, which collects much of O’Connor’s work for the Blackest Ever Black label from the last five years, may technically have more in common with a remix collection (among other things) than the ever-ponderous album, but as a focused and effective statement from the artist it works just as well as anything conceived of all at once.
The material here ranges from Regis’s new, frenetic reworking of the title track (originally done in the 80s by his old band Family Sex) to some of the more chilly, ambient takes on tracks by Dalhous and Tropic of Cancer (in the latter case not so much a full remix as an alternate take; O’Connor helped produce the album it’s from) to material from his own 2011 12” In a Syrian Tongue, the first release under the Regis name in a decade. As Regis, O’Connor remains the only artist to do remixes for Blackest Ever Black, and his work on productions by Ike Yard, Vatican Shadow, and Raime are characteristically strong; even with the relatively diverse sources throughout Mainbait, but you’d never guess it on a blind listen. The sound throughout is dark, minimalist, sleek, and heavy, whether it’s the punishing lurch of In a Syrian Tongue’s “Blood Witness” or his gnarled, hissing take on Vatican Shadow’s “Church of All Images”. Even when Manbait is relatively warmhearted, as when his version of Raime’s “This Foundry” ascends into light at the end, or the enveloping, echoing vocals on Tropic of Cancer’s “Plant Lilies at My Head”, it’s cold comfort.
In many ways, Manbait succeeds at things your classical Good Album is supposed to do (or is capable of doing, more accurately). It coheres; it takes the listener on a journey; it feels like more than the sum of its parts; it constructs its own world. It’s just that in this case, anyone following Regis or Blackest Ever Black with sufficient diligence over the last few years would have heard everything here already. That not a problem (it’s not as if there’s no precedent for compilations being worthwhile); if it speaks to anything, it’s a problem with being too doctrinaire about our categories. As long as Regis is producing work of this quality and consistency, the main virtue of a collection like Manbait is simply that it does us the favour of assembling that work in well-organized form. Hopefully it becomes a more regular tradition.