Wagon Christ: Sorry I Make You Lush

Tim O'Neil

Wagon Christ

Sorry I Make You Lush

Label: Ninja Tune
US Release Date: 2004-06-29
UK Release Date: 2004-06-21

I've been listening to Plug's "Drum & Bass for Papa" a lot lately. That disc encapsulates pretty neatly everything good about Luke Vibert's singularly facetious approach to making electronic music. By taking the traditionally hyper-serious and absolutely humorless format of drum & bass and infusing it with whimsy, Vibert succeeded in turning the genre on its ear and created a name for himself as that rarest of beasts: an electronic musician who didn't take himself so damnably serious. (He got a whole lot of nothin' for his troubles from the drum & bass world, but that's life.)

Whimsy is a double-edged sword. It's easy to create light-hearted music, but not quite so easy to infuse said whimsy with gravity. Without some dimensionality, an artist risks becoming "Weird" Al. Richard D. James is capable of some pretty humorous and borderline slapstick moments in his guise of Aphex Twin, but he also knows to leaven the weirdness with an occasional note of seriousness, be it melancholy or paranoia. Contrast creates dramatic tension, and dramatic tension keeps people interested.

So Vibert presents us with an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, Sorry I Make You Lush is as accomplished an album as you are likely to hear this year. But it skates a very fine line between irreverence and irrelevance, and emerges only partially successful. It must be said, however, that when the album works, it works really well.

Sorry I Make You Lush marks a return to the Wagon Christ alias for Vibert after a brief sojourn under his own name with last year's Yospeh, released on the Warp label. Yospeh was seen by many as a polarizing departure for Vibert, a harder project steeped in the acid sounds of early rave (albeit filtered through the prism of Vibert's skewed perspective). After Yospeh, Sorry . . . is probably a relief for his fanbase, a record more in line with 2001's Musipal.

Early tracks like "Saddic Gladdic" and "The Funnies" are classic Wagon Christ numbers, well-crafted tunes that meld the frenetic structuralism of IDM with the jaunty inventiveness native to turntable-driven artists such as Kid Koala and the Avalanches. They're a perfect example of Wagon Christ's conflicted ethos: if you like music that takes itself with a big grain of salt, you will like these tracks . . . but you might also wonder at the fragile distinctions between whimsy and kitsch.

Vibert has long been saddled with unfair comparisons to µ-ziq's Mike Paradinas, and tracks such as "I'm Singing", with its use of high-pitched synthesizer squeals as the dominant melodic line, don't go far towards making these comparisons inapt. "Shadows" uses similar noises, but also utilizes a series of more restrained and almost melancholy guitar and string samples to create a more mournful atmosphere. The synth squeaks go far towards breaking this mood, but the overall effect is still positive.

"Quadra Y Discos" almost seems to be built atop a sample of the Chemical Brothers' "Morning Lemon" (or perhaps shares some of that classic track's lineage?). The creatively spliced beat is a satisfying element in an otherwise awkwardly-constructed song. "UBFormby" seems to be built around the sample of a church organ, and the dichotomy of the cheesy organ against the more studious beat creates an interesting contrast.

The album's best track, "Sci Fi Staircase", is also the album's simplest composition. There aren't any extraneous samples or awkwardly whimsical elements, merely a engagingly funky break with a serious of continuously changing 303 melody lines building, throughout the track's seven-minutes, to a vertiginously brilliant emotive apex. It's a breathtaking reminder of how good Luke Vibert can be, when he feels like it -- creating electronic music as crystalline architecture.

But "Sci Fi Staircase" is followed by the album's title track, which is more of the same in terms of the album's predominant mood of ADD-infused sampledelica. There's your "Apache" breakbeat and your super-fast basslines and your sci-fi movie samples (did you get permission from Lucasfilm, Mr. Vibert?) It's just kind of dull. The album's final track, "Nighty Night", almost reminds me of the Propellerheads, with a very funky and crisp beat offset against an unprocessed and melodic bassline. It's a good note to finish the album on, a far more focused effort than most of the tracks which preceded it.

Ultimately, while Sorry I Make You Lush is by no means a bad album, and will certainly please Vibert's coterie of hardcore fans, it is also inconsistent and, at intervals, even dull. There's no doubt that when it comes to sheer studio virtuosity, Vibert is near the top of his class -- but as a composer, he needs to stop reading his old, dog-eared copies of Mad magazine and get some new ideas. I'd suggest he go back and listen to "Sci Fi Staircase" some more, because a full album in that vein would probably be an unquestionable masterpiece.





Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.


The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.


Siren Songs' Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.


Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.


Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.


Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.


Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.


Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.


The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.


ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.


Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.