PhonosycographDISK: Ancient Termites

Ancient Termites
Bomb Hip Hop

"What's the difference between Ancient Termites and every other turntablist record?" snorted my friend, the hip-hop lifer. "They're all starting to sound the same anyway." Although that last statement could apply to the new albums coming out of just about any hip-hop subgenre, my friend did have a point. While scratchadelia remains the most invigorating hip-hop development of the decade, the genre is definitely showing limits as it approaches wider recognition.

While beat-juggling and sound-altering tricks are big fun, they're fairly useless sonic gimmicks by themselves. Used out of musical context, they can generate noise as meaningless as the raw sounds of sonic boys' toys like the Moog or Roland TB-303 synthesizers. What sets Bay Area DJ PhonosycographDISK above his subculture is his skill for stripping the music bare and rebuilding it from the ground up, as early Eric B. and Rakim did. Where most turntablism sounds like its practitioners are trying to throw a party on wax, DISK's controlled, precise, and, most important, tasteful scratches are the melodic building blocks of tracks that satisfy the body and rock the party. Throughout his debut, Ancient Termites, they're as integral to the mix as beats or basslines. If DISK never highlights his own virtuosity the way a showboat like Mix Master Mike does, he never fussily asserts any jazzbo ties to "real" musicianship like Rob Swift. Instead, Ancient Termites provides a series of richly textured, smartly composed sound-pieces that transcend the artist's genre by maximizing its most confrontational sonic gimmick.

"To Me it's Scrambled Eggs" combines a slow electro beat with flickering snatches of a classical piano ostinato that complement the spare groove so perfectly you don't even notice that it comes from a stylus rubbing vinyl until two minutes into the tune. "Polar Bear Sunskreen" matches screaming, headlong guitars and drums with a manipulated sound bite, a shouted "Go!" And "Disk Drisks" uses heavy delay and feedback to create turntable inventions that rival the bleak industrial landscapes of early Einstürzende Neubauten. And, like the rest of Ancient Termites, it makes other turntablists sound like they're just playing with records.

Even when he just plays with records, DISK's compositional ability asserts itself: Take "Holidisk Inn," possibly the best track on the album, which places a small-combo jazz band in front of a funhouse mirror. As an overdubbed bassline glues everything together, DISK uses silence and repetition to interpret the piano and horns; the result is so ingenious, it should be taught in college courses on postmodernism. You know how hip hoppers like to boast that their albums "take it to the next level"? Well, here's one that lives up to that boast without dropping a single rhyme.

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