Spacer: The Beamer

Spacer
The Beamer
Palm Pictures
2001-07-10

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of good-natured eclecticism. Take Howie B, for instance, former flame of music’s favorite woman-child, Björk Gudmansdottir, fabled producer of off-the-wall leftfield electronica, and founder of the delightfully tongue-in-cheek Pussyfoot Records label based smack dab in Hoxton Square, ground zero for London’s self-consciously ironic denizens. Amidst the slew of quirky concept albums filling the Pussyfoot roster (such as last year’s Suck It and See, a label compilation featuring music inspired by porn flicks), Luke Gordon’s The Beamer stands out like an affected artiste amongst a sea of patchouli-smeared hippies. Recording under his Spacer guise, Gordon — known in the biz as a top engineer for the likes of U.N.K.L.E., DJ Krush, Major Force, and Mr. Howie B himself — turns out a delightful album of cut-up jazz, assertive rhythms, and twisted ingenuity.

Taking a lesson or two from his compatriots at Pussyfoot, Gordon has no qualms about messing with beats and sonic textures. While some artists lard their work with extraneous vocals or generous helpings of bongo drums in the name of nu-jazz, Gordon has an acute ear for space and balance. The exemplary opening track, “Smile”, takes a lonesome, folky vocal and splays it across a background of trembling strings, strummed harps, and tense drumming. With this arrangement, Gordon could have easily let the song play out on its own before moving on to the next. Thankfully, he chooses to tweak the formula and dissolve these sounds into a vaguely militaristic, rhythmic pattern of tambourine and snare drum, building tension exponentially and dragging the listener along for what will undoubtedly become a tremendous ride.

Gordon is apparently quite fond of hazy sound filters. Many of the cuts boast a delicately muffled quality, somewhat akin to listening to a tinny boombox through thick earmuffs. “Move” captures this feeling perfectly, using smothered arpeggiated tones, stuttered drum beats recorded at a distance, and a bewitching combination of strings, electric guitar twangs, handclaps, and repetitive keyboard chords. “2000” also sounds slightly muffled, using droning bass, harsh breaks, tense horns, and hastily skimmed piano strings to great effect.

For the most part, elements of jazz lurk around dark corners and underneath dense layers of percussion. Skipping electric bass plays nicely off a subtle house beat and busy trap kit drumming on “Matamanoa” before descending into lazy upright bass plucking, tinkling synth brushes, CD skips, and curiously atonal horn hums. The title track takes a more literal interpretation of jazz, using double-time drums and guitar work to mimic the feel of a Truby-esque jazz workout on speed.

The Beamer truly shines at the points where Gordon takes harsher sounds and runs with them. With “Dark Fader”, one can literally see a robot popping and locking to the song’s clattering electro-breaks and sharp horn fanfares. “Doomsday” is an enjoyable futuristic house tune, embellishing the standard 4/4 beat with sounds of a jet plane takeoff, Hitchcockian string stabs and fever-pitch tremolos, insistent piano riffs, and strangely laidback bongos. “Houston” is a particularly stunning number, introducing a warped, Andalusian violin solo backed by foreboding orchestral strings before turning towards metallic territory. Lest the whole concoction become annoyingly sibilant, Gordon adds a tinge of warmth with pleasant horns and a husky, softened vocal sample. The overall effect can only be approximated as a surprisingly harmonious combination of Danse Macabre, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and a ’70s action flick.

Overall, The Beamer is simply fascinating. The album is dark, yet entirely engaging and strangely enchanting. Thankfully, Gordon does not become hopelessly mired in a sticky mess of sound; he arranges his compositions into briskly paced, rhythmic songs of swaggering movement whilst carefully sidestepping needlessly dreary or morose theatrics. As Spacer, Gordon toes the line between retro-futurism and futuristic retro, producing an eyebrow-raising work of unique vision and imagination.

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