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L.T.J. Bukem Presents Logical Progression

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Spring Heel Jack

68 Million Shades...

Trade 2/Island U.K.

          THE MINORITY STATUS of jungle (a.k.a.: drum & bass) music in the local dance underground is understandable, I guess: House and techno have been around much longer than this upstart British movement, and more importantly, they have genuine midwestern roots. But to judge from recent jams (notably the steamy multi-system party hosted by Inneraktive Nettwerx a couple of weeks back), local junglists are making themselves heard. Which is a good thing, since at its best, this swiftly mutating style is the most fascinating pop sound to come along in quite some time.

          Goldie's pop stylings aside, a young Brit trading under the name of L.T.J. Bukem would seem to be the standard-bearer of sophisticated drum & bass, with a domestically released 2-CD set that features tracks performed, produced, or selected by the artist with the spaceman parka and the book nerd specs. These are no accidental signifiers, either. The idea that this is brainy, futuristic music is one that marketers in the U.K. are pushing on older, first-generation ravers whose lifestyle no longer accommodates early-morning warehouse clubs and monolithic techno beats that engage your attention only at high levels of decibels and psychoactives, if then.

          There is a complex, icy elegance to the mostly instrumental music on Logical Progression. The cuts almost all feature the signature sound of "artcore" jungle, which is as much Bukem's trademark as anyone's: breakbeat loops built from skittering, hyperdriven snare snaps, assorted filler beats, speedy reggae basslines, and cool blue washes of ambient drones. It's an Irish coffee sort of effect, allowing you to either groove wildly or just space out and listen. And unlike so much dance music, this does repay close listening--at least in the beats, which are so intricate I find myself playing tracks over and over just to try and figure out how they fit together.

          Unfortunately, there is a disappointing sameness to the various cuts here, which is ironic in light of the liner notes trumpeting Bukem's "groundbreaking movement away from 'formulated' music." And with an endless sampling palette to color the beats, why are the ambient swells and the jazzy melody lines so cheezy? My guess is cynical marketing; since new age and jazz fusion are the only instrumental styles that move records in pop quantities, those are the one's junglists are drawing on. Get these guys Eno's Apollo and Rhino's new Masters of Jazz series and let's see what happens next time out.

          For Spring Heel Jack, it already is next time out. I never did get a chance to hear their debut LP, which wound up on the top-20 lists of a lot of British critics last year. But those of you who've heard the title track of Everything But The Girl's drum & bass-fueled Walking Wounded (or the new Tortoise 12-inch, "Galapagos #1," on Thrill Jockey) have heard SHJ's dark, dreamy production style. While outfits like Future Loop Foundation and Photek (who have a cut on Logical Progression, though it's not as good as their Hidden Camera EP) have been pushing jungle past Bukem's basic equations, 68 Million Shades...strikes me as the most intriguing drum & bass record yet. Rhythm-wise, the group likes to micro-manage, packing beats between beats between beats and using the old Jamaican dub trick of doctoring each stroke so it sounds like a barrage of dissimilar percussion. Melody lines snake up unexpectedly, cobbled from lazy, acerbic horn loops ("60 Seconds") or weird electronic flourishes and dissonance ("Pan"), working against the beats like salmon swimming upstream. And the set manages to avoid (or at least transform) the pedestrian fuzak references that mar the Bukem collection, crafting something warmer and altogether weirder. (Weirder still, if less fully realized, is Versions, a slightly shorter CD of 68 Million remixes that turns up the dub effects and moves even further away from jungle formalism.)

          Not surprisingly, U.S. labels are at a loss for what to do with this kind of music--which is why Island is pushing the just-O.K. Alex Reece record, So Far, stateside, but has no plans whatever to release 68 Million Shades...domestically. For all you post-punkers who'd forgotten the days when revolutionary pop came mainly from the import shop--well, it's back to the cash machine. (Will Hermes)

Greg Brown

Further In

Red House

          FROM THE CARTOONISH line drawings of pear-shaped torsos on its cover, you might think the title of Further In refers to the status of middle-aged navels--and in a sense it does. These dozen songs, nearly all of them gems, revolve around the theme of aging gracefully and tenaciously. To Brown, settling down is an honorable form of retrenchment, a plumbing into the old-fashioned verities of love and decency so that the physical and emotional attritions of life don't ulcerate our souls. It's navel-gazing with a broader purpose.

          In more ways than one, you can file Further In under anti-Urban Contemporary. Disdain for modern technology and its fleeting gratifications is palpable throughout the disc. "Control nothing remotely," Brown urges his lover on "Think About You," his bullfrog voice scraping against his libido as he playfully mocks the lingo of electronics with a series of sexual double entendres. Set to a gorgeous, simplistic melody, "Two Little Feet" is about skipping a plane flight for a transcendent walk through the woods in the rain. Brown's bucolic lyrics and rustic sentiments are reinforced by a cadre of string players--on bass, violin, mandolin, acoustic guitar, and lap slide guitar--whose interchanges are as spare, clean, and sparkling as a mountain stream. On tracks like "China" and "You Can Always Come To Me," they stoke an intimate momentum of their own that overshadows Brown's contribution, which is no mean feat.

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