Spring Heel Jack: Busy Curious Thirsty

Spring Heel Jack
Busy Curious Thirsty
Island/Trade 2

GROOVIN' ON THE new Spring Heel Jack record is like trying to do the funky chicken at the firebombing of Dresden. On Busy Curious Thirsty the U.K. drum'n'bass duo shred like the funkiest noise band since Public Enemy, and they do it without saying a word. Sirens blare from armored cars that whiz by in the fast lane to Pluto; an itty-bitty baby gets bitch-slapped by a landslide of hip-hop rhythms; entire orchestras get swallowed in black holes, and then spat back as something akin to the fin de siècle noise DJ Shadow might make if he decided to do a jungle remix of a Watts riot. This is meltdown music.

Last year, eons before you could hear drum'n'bass's wicked hyperspeed hip-hop beats and Jamaican DJ pyrotechnics in the car commercials that fall between slabs of Jenny, Spring Heel Jack scooped the subgenre out of the U.K. dance underground and made it into new jack soul 'n' jazz. Their epoch-marking debut, 68 Million Shades, was a deeply gorgeous, deftly cinematic record that unwound like subliminal soul sauce.

Its full-length follow-up explodes. The album opens with three very hard breakbeat tracks--the liberating "Bells," "Casino," and the constantly crashing "Bank of America." Then it rests, catching its breath during "Galapagos 3," a drumless 'n' bassless suite of organs (ever heard Terry Riley?) and dissonant strings (or Iannis Xenakis?) that soothes you in stop-action for nearly nine minutes--until it finally takes itself (and you) off into sleepyland.

The effect is striking; geeks might find its worldview shattering (this one did). "Galapagos 3" is modern classical music on a funk record--an argument for John Cage as a kissing cousin of James Brown--and you might have to go back to electric Miles in the '70s to hear avant-funk conceit rendered with such genre-busting intrepidity. And it does frame the rest of the album as a bit of an afterthought. Yet, the gentle "Hale Bopp," shapeless "Bells 2," and scrappy, metallic "Fresh Kills Landfill" all renovate the drum'n'bass palette, even if they don't quite rewrite its book of rules. And, as the album closer "The Wrong Guide" steps outside the d'n'b canon for close to six minutes of live-sounding jazz drums, aborted string crescendos, and stop-action hip-hop beats, you begin to suspect Spring Heel Jack couldn't care less about landing in anyone's book of rules, except their own. They obviously don't give a shit about landing in between slabs of Jenny either.

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