Rock writers are cagey creatures. By profession, they sift through a more-than-average amount of music, encounter their fair share of crap, try to find something nice to say about it, and then — and this almost a rule — finally glean the rare and arguable gems from the very bottom of the pile. It’s a labor of love; for some, it’s a twisted crusade for artistic integrity.
But if there’s one thing that stands in the way of the rock writer’s quest for musical truth, it’s that necessary evil of the press relation racket, the press release. The generally one-page photocopied flyers that come with promo albums inevitably dub artist X as “the best thing that’s ever happened to music, and if you don’t listen to this album right now then that’s your own damned stupid fault, because artist X is going to turn the music world upside down and damned if you don’t get this album . . . well, you lose”. You’d think you were part of the WWII German contingent, barraged with propaganda leaflets dropped from lumbering British dirigibles. If you believe everything every press release says, then you’re almost certainly A) blindingly gullible, or B) living on a cut of the label’s income.
Bottom line: it’s important to be objective. Otherwise, you’ll be thinking bands like the Stratford 4 and Hoobastank actually make good, redeeming music.
Which brings us to the chillout compilation Carte Blanche 3. Naked Music Recordings’ press release testimonial for Carte Blanche 3 touts the album as “delectable” and “. . . music too good to go unheard”. That’s big, lofty praise. Unfortunately, it’s all bunk. What this album is, is a rotten hodge-podge of relatively unheard-of artists creating mediocre chillout music that couldn’t find its way to any other disc but this one. Don’t believe anything Naked Music may say about the artists appearing here, either: the artists appearing here are not “up-and-coming” in the sense that they’d have you believe. Think more “up-and-coming” like your brother’s band is up-and-coming because they played the hometown watering hole, or because they recorded an album for a local, straight-from-the-basement “label” complete with a four-track recorder. Yeah, “up-and-coming” like that.
That’s not to mean that everyone that appears here is “b”-grade or anything like that. Electronic artists almost have an obligation to sound slick and professional; actually, it’s hard not to when you can afford the equipment required to play this sort of music in the first place. But even amidst the whirs and clicks of electronica, there’s still got to be some soul, some semblance of the artist’s thoughts and vision at the given time a track was made. There’s got to be some passion, and on Carte Blanche 3, there is none. This is the sort of bonehead background music you expect to hear piped from the ceiling of an Abercrombie & Fitch, or played underneath the aerial shot of some obscure paradise on public access television’s travel program.
Some tracks, such as Blu Mar Ten’s “Trauma” and Metro Area’s remix of Central Living’s “Inside”, take drum’n’bass, put a deep house spin on it, and pass it off as intriguing chillout. Other tracks, such as Fenomenon’s “Romero Avenue” and Gealle’s “Falling”, ransack world music archives for the simplest world beats they can find and claim them as their own, all but smothering them underneath waves of senseless synths and stupid bass throbs.
That’s right: stupid bass throbs. Of course, the bass is supposed to be redundant and ham-fisted in the world of electronica. But shouldn’t it be interesting, as well? Even in the blatantly disco-inspired tracks, of which there are more than many, the bass is either boringly blasé or needlessly complex, adding nothing to the track and ultimately making it as faceless as the one that preceded it. Even dance subgenre trance’s generalized bass drones serve a purpose, much like the intricacies of break-beats and the thumps of hip-hop. It all ties together with the elements surrounding it to serve the general whole: create a soundscape, a mood, for dancing, chilling, or whatever else you have in mind for your afternoon or evening.
Carte Blanche 3 creates no such soundscape. Instead, it evokes images of tuning out muzak in a trendy downtown restaurant and of your finger hitting the “skip” button on your CD player. That Naked Music is an imprint of the respected Astralwerks label is a disappointment. It’s generally regarded that whatever product Astralwerks slaps its name on, regardless of whether you like it or not, is going to have some merit. Unfortunately, Carte Blanche 3 seems to have none. It’s just a compilation of tracks that seemingly couldn’t get accepted on any of the countless other, sometimes better chillout compilations currently pervading the market.
“Get horizontal and explore the realm [of this album]”, the press release reads. Only if you plan on going to sleep. Instead of a chillout, this album’s a snoozer.