LIKE HERMAN'S HERMITS' dread "I'm Henry VIII, I Am," the repetitive joy of techno has the potential to lock itself into an eternal loop of "Second verse, same as the first." The threat of sinking into a fathomless well of echo has inspired certain electronic musicians to consult the stylistic notes of their predecessors in jazz and classical music, a task none have pursued more tirelessly than British duo Spring-Heel Jack. On their latest album, Disappeared, John Coxon and Ashley Wales integrate trumpet and bass clarinet into their breakbeat science, further surpass the formulaic layouts of Aphrodite and the self-indulgent drool of the Orb. In the process, the album honors the duo's influences without kowtowing to them. "Disappeared 2" diddles about as if it were auditioning for Koyaanisqatsi 2000, while "Trouble and Luck" dreams of establishing a techno-fusion night at Birdland.
Disappeared hasn't shunted off the danceable tracks entirely. Traces of the group's earlier kinetic bombast can be heard on the cleanly automated "Galina." But Coxon and Wales seem less interested in throbbing club walls than in amplified impressionism. Disappeared finds SHJ fusing the spirit of two of their more experimental works--the Sound of Music EP, which refracted everyone's favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein melodies into unfamiliar patterns, and 68 Million Shades, the aural equivalent of throwing clay on an ambient pottery wheel. Their giant robot hands snip and fold beats, drones, and clatter to create an intricate origami orchestra.
These shifting textures are as moody as mood music comes; you're not sure whether you should be dancing, unwinding, or making out. The twisted horn echoes of "Mit Wut" may be the sonic analogues of the misshapen, stilt-legged elephants from a Salvador Dali painting. From one of its quieter lulls, that song stealthily blends into the creeping Miles Davis ghost trumpet of "Disappeared 1." The result is a miniature "Grand Canyon Suite," which might make you wish you'd paid enough attention in music class to tell your decrescendos from your ostinatos. If we're still around in a couple of hundred years, this is the stuff that MPR should be playing.