Director's Cut is the debut release from Si Begg, at least under his own name. You may know Begg's work already from his previous incarnations such as S.I. Futures, Buckfunk 3000, or Bigfoot. Known for his mish-mash of styles and fun loving, globetrotting electro-techno-funk, Begg has been a mainstay of the indie-electro scene for years. His 2001 album, The Mission Statement (under the S.I. Futures moniker) was a critically acclaimed, genre busting burst of electro-funk and sci-fi energy, that had everyone from XLR8R to the NME hailing him as the reigning king of electronic futurism. Two years, however, is a lifetime in the electronic music world and just as Si Begg was breaking rules and turning the tables on the scene back in '01, he could just as easily be on the outside looking in, in '03.
Fortunately, Begg hasn't been resting on his laurels. Recorded over the past year in his home studio, Director's Cut is a supposedly intentional act of self-indulgence. According to Begg, "I wanted it to be a true reflection of my aesthetics". In that regard, Directors Cut is an unmitigated success. Although overly long at 68 minutes (self-indulgence is not known for its brevity), Director's Cut is brimming with fresh sounds, belching rhythms, glitchy refrains, soulful vocals, and seriously funky beats. Think Kraftwerk, thrown into a food processor with DNTEL, Timbaland, Ken Ishi, and Grandmaster Flash. And that's just the opening cut.
Begg enjoys mixing styles, and he pulls it off well on this disc. Everything from electro, to U.K. garage, to space rock is represented on this LP, and the album is actually very cohesive in spite of it. Where Begg sometimes stumbles is with his beats. With all the knob-twiddling frenzy of his melodies and staccato cut and paste of his vocal parts, you could be forgiven for wanting a little more out of the rhythm tracks. In certain cuts, mainly "Body", and "V.I.P.", he relies too much on retro 808-style beats that tend to constrain the otherwise out-of-this-world nature of the songs. When he does let loose rhythmically, most notably on "Time", "Grind", and "Technology" the result is pure musical bliss of the highest order.
The album's highlight has to be the one-two punch of "England" and "Technology". "England" is total Kraftwerk all the way, with vocodered William Blake-spouting vocals, plucky guitars, and robots lecturing you about television and marketing. When I say robots, I'm referring to the deliriously old-school voice synthesis boxes that Begg uses to great effect throughout the album. If you don't know what I'm talking about, think back to the computer from the movie War Games ("Do you want to play a game?") and you've got it. On "Technology", the same robots reappear saying simply and lovingly, "I love technology". The glitched up, cut-and-paste vocals work so well that "Technology" quickly becomes one of the album's most inspired moments.
Director's Cut is less successful when employing the talents of various contributors and guests. Singer Jinadu offers somewhat uninspired vocals on two of the cuts, ("Colour" and "River") and never really hits his stride in either of the songs. Maybe it's Jinadu's slightly dissonant vocal melodies, or the fact that he sounds a little like a bad Seal impersonator, but his contributions just never compliment the music the way they should. Elsewhere, Miss MC offers up her own unique brand of British rap on the UK garage inspired "Buss", but I was left unimpressed and a little bored by the cut. Others fare better. Jamie Ball helps out on the hilariously weird "Kebabs" where his distorted and impossibly stretched and convulsed answering machine-recorded voice takes some sort of bizarre food order over a thick bed of layered electronics. It shouldn't work, but happily it does. Finally, a vocodered Femme Von Trapp eagerly reads off flight itineraries in the Tangerine Dream inspired "Airports". If you've been waiting for someone to update late '70s space rock with a modern aesthetic (and hey, haven't we all), then you're in for a treat here.
All in all, Director's Cut is a thrilling ride. While Begg's experiments don't always work, he's earned my respect for being as brazenly off-the-wall as he is. The LP never gets bogged down by pretension or self-indulgence because Begg keeps his tongue planted firmly in cheek on so many of the tracks. He never forgets that dance music is about having fun and, like Prince, he has the talent and precociousness to try anything and everything that comes to his mind.