Heavy Data Processing
Poor Hannah Höch. Had Berlin Dada's grand dame lived to see her beloved art of photomontage reduced to a moronic series of Tanqueray ads, she might have had doubts about her whole life's enterprise. Yet if Höch had stuck around, she might also have been cheered to find her aesthetic thriving in a million and one pop-music cut'n'pasters. It may be the result of hearing the world through the ears of a sonic glutton, but those collage artists--the sample-slingers, turntablists, song-pilfering producers, and retro-archivist rock bands--spoke the loudest to me in '97. Call it the year of heavy data processing. Here are some highlights.
Anokha: Soundz of the Asian Underground (Quango/Island)
Indian pop has always been a stylistic cannibal, whether taking the form of Bollywood film soundtrack material or bhangra/disco tracks. With Anokha, producer/musician Talvin Singh not only delivered this year's best drum'n'bass/electronica set, but launched a progressive Asian dance-pop movement that should reverberate through the diaspora for years. Tablas, santoors, cooing Hindi Lolitas, orchestral swells, faux Air India PA sound bites, and fragrant breakbeats all folded into a Macintosh masala. (Rock snobs: See Cornershop's When I Was Born For The 7th Time.)
APPLES IN STEREO
Tone Soul Revolution (Spin Art)
Robert Peter Schneider's ongoing tribute to Brian Wilson, Joe Meek, and George Martin shamelessly oozes '60s classic-pop melodicism, but he stirs his pop so well the specific ingredients disappear into his shiny, happy mixes. Prolific painter/cover artist Steve "Wowee Zowee" Keene captures the spirit outside (biting Piet Mondrian) and in- (biting Jasper Cropsie on the inner-fold). As unavoidably smile-producing as MDMA.
Come From Heaven (Melankolic)
With Tricky on hiatus and the Sneaker Pimps sullying its name, I thought "trip hop" had seen its day. But this U.K. collective--the first signee to Massive Attack's Melankolic label--came through with an impossibly lush set that's heavy on the Bacharach (who won more hipster props than he's had in years, from Zorn's tribute and Elvis Costello's collaborations to the Dusty Springfield box, and the samples of folks like these). Come From Heaven also addresses its genre's chronic gender imbalance by giving Martin Barnard's quivering, high-drama croons equal time with the gals'. Someone should give this crew Dionne's cell-phone number.
Another genre-redeemer--in this case of that perpetual head-scratcher "world music." Taking the term literally, group leader André Abujamra wandered the globe with a DAT, returned home, put together a band of a dozen-some players, worked up a shitload of jams, and ran all the tapes through his digital Cuisinart. The result isn't a blanched wine-bar soundtrack (à la Deep Forest), but an edgy, international, prog-rock-damaged pastiche with roots deep in the soil of the group's native Brazil.
Mundo Civilizado (Bar None)
Hyper Civilizado (Rykodisc)
Another adventure in Brazilismo, this one via a NYC art-punk-turned-Brazil-pop-production-guru. Showing all the smarts he brought to projects with Caetano Veloso and Marisa Monte (among other superstars), Lindsay crossed bossa nova cool with high-tech, pan-urban tension on a pair of LPs. Mundo Civilizado is a sultry, bilingual song-cycle that covers both Al Green's "Simply Beautiful" and Prince's "Erotic City." Hyper Civilizado tosses the Mundo tapes to a crew of NYC illbient DJs (Spooky, Soul Slinger, We) and to other freeky funkateers. Samba and drum'n'bass: separated at birth?
Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi
(Eighteenth Street Lounge Music)
With surely the best name ever for a crew of sample pirates, this pair of funky-chill white boys dedicates their record "to the memory of [bossa nova master] Antonio Carlos Jobim," although dub legend King Tubby would be more accurate. Reimagining '70s dub as hip hop, or vice versa, they cross-fade between toasters and rappers in a beat-wise history lesson that doubles as equal-opportunity lounge music. Or something like that.
Return of the DJ Vol. II (Bomb)
Both quaint and visionary, this set of breakbeat collages (heavy on the sc-sc-scratchin') is cut'n'paste at its most dense, most primitive, and most thrilling. Shards of tunes fly by (Audio Two's "Top Billin'" here, Malcolm McLaren's "Buffalo Gals" there) alongside the percussive shriek of vinyl dragged across a stylus. It's the literal sound of music being pulled back and forth between the past and the future, with such speed and dexterity that you lose track of the present. You couldn't hope to find a better metaphor for fin de siècle culture.
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