Monday, May 31, 2004
I'm bored of folktronica; this year I'm into spacerock and rave!
James T. Cotton
The Dancing Box
The mini acid revival that kicked off last year with Luke Vibert’s YosePH continues apace courtesy of James T Cotton’s The Dancing Box. Cotton here cultivates a strand of dirty, spooky house music, stitched together as much from ominous noise and the rumblings of things living under your stairs as a 303 and a computer. You could dance to this, but not in any venue your mother would approve of (“You can’t go out to that place!” she would protest, “People have sex and take drugs! There are… things… living there…”). Occasional passages of dark ambience do nothing to ameliorate the eat-you-alive functionalism of the beat-led material: if anything they make you even weaker to the lure of the groove by causing you to look even more rapidly behind you, inventing whole new dance crazes based on how scared you are. Voices crawl first from one direction then from another but the beat always comes from one place, straight ahead. “A Long Way Down” could be a distant cousin of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2, while “Buck!” harks back to the formative days of rave as someone blows a whistle, although this may be as much in warning as celebratory delirium. Disconcerting, vampiric, and intense.
It starts with mechanical rustle, a buzz on the verge of melody, a twitch, a glisten, something that might once have been an instrument. Anybody with a laptop can make an album. Kid Koala admitted recently that music software is so good that it almost doesn’t need a real live human being to be at the controls anymore; he reckoned he could make a release-worthy record in an evening, put it together in not much more time than it takes to listen to it. I don’t know if this is the apex of what punk was about all those years ago or if it’s the final victory of cybernetic systems over the humans they were supposed to help in the first place, but I guess if the music is good then we have nothing to complain about. Landau talk about “contingent permutation systems” and don’t fully reveal who they actually are; a “conglomerate” is all the admission of identity that we get. But no matter the names and faces and lives of whoever made this music, because Thepicompromise (see what they did with the title? It’s almost clever) has a musicality that surprises, a sense of delicate melody and tunefulness that, while not memorable enough to hum away from the act of listening, is enough to make you listen rather than distract, to make you remember to want to play it again, to make you pause and look outside to see if the mist has lifted, and not be upset if it hasn’t.
5/31/2004 08:24:00 pm