Wednesday, February 02, 2005

There’s Acid In The House

Richard James is back, releasing a string of 12” singles as AFX on his Rephlex label. Very exciting. The Analord singles (a pun on Analogue), as they’re called, will supposedly be a string of 10 releases, with 1 and 2 having just been released last Tuesday.

For many of the techno cognoscenti, James has a mandate to break new ground with each new release. Talk about pressure! Innovate, you Cornwall fiend! Somewhere back in the mid-90’s he was flagged as the pacesetter for all future electronic music, each of his releases to be nothing less then the gold standard on which all else was judged. He was done gone and hailed a genius, a judgment I wholeheartedly embraced- his Ambient Works 85-92, being one of the earliest full albums of electronic music I ever purchased (right around the time of other, then rare and stellar full length releases coming out by the likes of LFO, Black Dog, Autechre, The Future Sound of London, The Orb, and Orbital) and the album I probably cherished and listened to the most throughout the decade.

Throughout the remainder of the 90’s James was fairly prolific. He seemed willing to oblige his critics by releasing a string of extraordinarily innovative albums, his last acknowledged masterwork being 1999’s Miami bootylicious Windowlicker single. There was, however, a palpable sense of disappointment upon the release of 2001’s Drukqs, a collective impression that James had lazily reached into his vaults and released a 2 CD set of half-baked cast-offs. The disheartened consensus seemed to be that he wasn’t breaking new ground, not properly fulfilling his mandate and progressing. I have to admit, however, to being wary of this idea/legacy that somehow novels, poems, paintings, music, etc… must somehow be…what? more advanced then their predecessors…an idea that seems intimately connected to the arts function as a commodity in a capitalist society rather then its emotional/intellectual connection to the person engrossed in it. This idea of progress first is particularly entrenched in the world of electronic music- that somehow because of its production reliance on computers it must shadow and demonstrate a kind of Moore’s Law rate of development- its complexity and wow factor doubling every 18 months or else.

We digress, man.

The initial Analord releases seem to be all all about heading back to the sound of old skool aciiiiiid, supposedly made on James’s hefty collection of classic analogue gear. It’s the antithesis of progress, the sound of a dude reveling in an acid (analogue) bubble bath. The Roland 303 is sputtering and squiggling all over these tracks and the beat programming, while exquisite (those crisp hi-hat’s- oye!), is kept simple and supportive rather then eclipsing via cut-up ‘how’d he do that? mayhem. Most of the tracks are in fact pretty straightforward, which is to say James’s is cool with keeping things fairly minimal and letting the acid gurgle and shine. Take a track like Analord 10’s untitled track 1 (James released a couple tracks from Analord 10 as teasers a few weeks ago), where a fat and dampened kick drum serves to reinforce propulsive dueling acid lines that are oh so delicately tweaked up and out and into a sublime grind that, in the tracks final seconds, are dramatically dropped leaving just the kick and a distant acid arpeggio. Sweaty and sublime, and yes, we've certainly been here and done this before- any use of the Roland 303 at this point has what Simon Reynolds aptly called the "patina of homage," but it would take a lot more by way of record collection acid fatigue (simply put, I don't have all that much music laced with the Roland 303) for me to find this an "utterly lame" retread.

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