Music

Sidestepper: 3AM (In Beats We Trust)

Andy Hermann

Sidestepper

3AM (In Beats We Trust)

Label: In Beats We Trust
US Release Date: 2003-04-22
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Usually I'm all for music that synthesizes a variety of styles, especially when there's a little bit of Latin involved. Nothing spices up western dance music like a little salsa, samba, cumbia, merengue, tango, reggae . . . I mean, geez, has any other part of the world produced as many indelible musical styles? The fusion of African, Spanish and native cultures unique to Latin America seems to generate an endless bounty of rhythms and beats, and when fused with the high-tech sounds of contemporary American, British and European dance music, the results are often spectacular.

Still, the best purveyors of Latin-flavored electronica tend to be the iconoclasts, the cheeky rhythm thieves like Kinky and Jazzanova and the aptly named Thievery Corporation who twist traditional sounds to their own selfish ends. And I think my biggest problem with Sidestepper's latest project, 3AM (In Beats We Trust), is that it steadfastly refuses to do this. Where Sidestepper's debut full-length, More Grip, was a Basement Jaxx-like crazy quilt of warped beats and mutated Latin pop, 3AM sounds at times like a tastefully remixed assemblage of Alan Lomax field recordings from Colombia and the Caribbean. I kept waiting for Sidestepper founder Richard Blair's trademark drum 'n' bass beats and dirty synths to wade in and liven up the proceedings, but the closest they come is a few trippy burbles on "Donde Va Mi Corazon" and "No Lloraré", and then the effect is more intrusive than additive, like the house DJ at a cumbia club cutting in on the PA during a folk set to say there's a car in the parking lot with its lights on.

This is not to say that 3AM isn't still interested in mashing together styles and sounds, but this time around it's Jamaica rather than England that adds most of the spice. Dub/reggae horns and a nearly subliminal bassline are virtually the only embellishments on the opening track, "Deja (Mary)", which features minimalist piano, sparse percussion and a delicate vocal from Blair's main partner in crime, Colombian folk-pop singer/guitarist Ivan Benavides. Things get more interesting on "Mas Papaya", which juxtaposes Colombian vocals with the ragga/dancehall raps of Rubi Dan and Jucxi Dee over a bouncy beat that's somewhere between cumbia and reggae. Still, there's a stripped-down quality to this and the album's other obvious attempts to fuse Kingston and Bogotá sounds that was apparently intended to make the music sound more soulful, but to my ear just makes it too flat to work as dance music, and so traditional that it comes off more as a clumsy grafting together of well-worn ideas rather than a discovery of something truly original.

The best moments on 3AM have less to do with attempts at Latin/dub fusion than with the style and grace on individual performances. Intrusive synths aside, "No Lloraré" works thanks a gorgeously sprightly lead vocal from Janio Coronado, a far more engaging singer than the solid but unremarkable Benavides, who regrettably does the leads on most of the album. "No Lloraré" is also interesting because it's a departure from the traditional cumbia sound favored by Benavides; instead, Coronado favors a shuffling, almost samba-like rhythm unique to coastal Colombian folk. Blair fleshes out the track's feather-light percussion and vocals with a dub bassline, the odd splash of programmed beats, and those synths, but the track would work just as well without any embellishment. "Walking" is similarly highlighted by a surprisingly nice sung vocal by Jucxi Dee, who sweetly sells this dub/reggae track's simple lyrics and melody. Unfortunatley, Rubi Dan interrupts thing with a rap that reminds us that, while he's certainly got riddim and one of those classic Shaggy-like Kingston baritones, lyrically he's just not all that interesting: "Shy, no lie, go up to the sky/I've grown into one hell of a guy/Stay young in my mind as the years multiply". Dan's shortcomings as a vocalist are a major reason why the album's dub/reggae elements too often sound cookie-cutter, rather than innovative, even when they're layered on top of Colombian arrangements.

3AM ends on a pretty note with "Llegare", which features some harmonies between Benavides and the album's talented female vocalists, Jimena Angel and Liliana Montes, that will make post-party beat junkies go all misty-eyed. It's a nice finish, but it still doesn't quite save an album that's mostly made up of tracks like "Aunque Me Duela la Vida" and the insufferably silly "Me Gustas (No Me Disgustas)", which are really just fair-to-middling Colombian pop tunes dressed up with dub/reggae horns, basslines and the occasional disposable toast, plus electronics so subtle they're barely there. There's just no oomph to any of these songs. They're catchy at times, especially the title track, a straight ragga number with a ridiculously infectious synth hook; but unless you've been smoking copious amounts of ganja they're unlikely to induce more than the occasional head-bob.

Ultimately, I suppose 3AM will probably delight anyone who happens to be a big fan of both Jamaican dub/ragga and Latin pop -- I happen not to be, which is probably why I found Sidestepper's latest to be a little reverential in its treatment of its source styles. But I do think that other recent fusions of Latin and "western" musical styles have produced livelier and more surprising discs than this.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

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 .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


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.